Disclaimer - It's all JKR's.
Disclaimer Two - It was entirely B. Bennett's idea. She sent me two paragraphs
of "Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if..." I said, "Yes! Let me
write it!" Being a sweetheart, she said, "Be my guest." Now,
if B. Bennett had written it, you would have a nice, concise, tight story that
would leave you happily tearful at the end. But mwahahaha. You're stuck with
me. Get comfy for the long haul.
Summary - R/H, fifth year, lots of snow.
A/N - Thanks to Jedi Boadicea, for helping me with the Mudblood insult, for
making up Python Blossoms with me, and for letting me borrow your happy idea
that perhaps Pansy was dropped on her face as a child. Thanks also to Hallie,
for helping me to mind my English.
Harry hadn't looked at all well, at lunch time, and thoughts of what might
be bothering him were greatly bothering Hermione now. She stared out of the
window at the briskly falling snow, hardly able to concentrate on class at all.
"...which makes the answer to number four what, Miss Granger?"
She blinked, and scanned her notes. "Erm, that would be the Patronus,
Professor - because a manifestation of joy, though Arithmantically incalculable,
can still be organised and harnessed for use in other spellwork."
Professor Vector chuckled. "Excellent. And for a moment, I actually thought
you weren't paying attention. Five points to Gryffindor."
Hermione creased her brows in thought, hardly hearing either the praise from
her teacher, or the chorus of annoyed half-groans from her classmates that followed
it. What on earth is the matter with Harry? she puzzled. Sirius was still
quite safe, Dumbledore hadn't entirely lost his influence over Hogwarts, and
the Aurors had made it to Kent in time to protect the McDonalds from attack
by the Death Eaters. All things considered, it had been a rather happy December,
and it was very nearly time for the holiday break. Yet Harry was definitely
in a state about something; she knew his face well enough now to know that he
had been in one of his dark, nervous moods over lunch, and there were usually
terribly good reasons for those. Or terribly bad ones, she corrected
herself, hoping very much that whatever was troubling Harry, it wasn't his scar.
"Granger, not paying attention in class? But how could it
be?" came a cutting hiss from behind her. "Preoccupied?
Thinking about your boyfriend Potter again?"
Shut up and die, Pansy, Hermione thought coldly. But she didn't answer.
She wouldn't answer. She hadn't looked at or spoken to Pansy Parkinson since
they had begun Arithmancy together. To fight in Snape's class was one thing,
but Hermione respected Professor Vector with her whole heart, and she wasn't
about to sink to Slytherin lows in the Arithmancy classroom. Besides which,
it was ridiculous that rumours still floated around Hogwarts about herself and
Harry, and Hermione often wondered if everyone was entirely blind. Although,
she reminded herself quickly, it was all right if they were. After all, it didn't
do to have everyone noticing... everything.
Hermione forced her books into her overloaded school bag, taking care not to
crush her diary, then slung the massive thing onto her back and allowed her
thoughts to return to Harry's troubled state, as she walked along the corridors.
Unthinkingly, she performed the complicated series of twists and turns that
led her to the lowest stairways. She descended into the dungeons, chewing on
her lip, forgetting that she shared this class with Pansy, too.
"Potter and Granger, sitting in a tree," sang a high-pitched voice,
not far above her on the stairs. "K-I-S-S-"
Ignore her.... ignore her...
"I-N-G. You know, you two could share a name, just combine them together.
Har-Mione." The Slytherin girls who followed Pansy everywhere erupted into
She's obviously an idiot. She's been poorly raised. She likes Malfoy
for heaven's sake...
"If you're lucky, your kids will have your hair and his forehead. That
way, they can join the circus as the freak act."
Don't give her the satisfaction.
"Of course, Mudbloods are freaks in the first place, so no matter
what happens with Potter, you'll still end up with -"
"Is that your real nose, Parkinson, or did someone drop you on your face
as a baby?"
Hermione jumped, startled. She'd been thinking the words, but she certainly
hadn't said them. Her head snapped toward the door of the Potions classroom
and she saw Ron, his face contorted in fury, his fists clenched. Her stomach
twisted funnily. She turned to look at Pansy, who had miraculously gone quiet;
the Slytherin tapped her wand against her thigh and said nothing. A wide smile
crept across Pansy's face a moment later, however. She crossed her arms and
positively simpered at something just over Hermione's shoulder.
"Paid bodyguard, are you, Weasley?"
Hermione whirled around at once. The cold drawl was instantly recognizable,
and she wasn't about to stand by and watch as Malfoy taunted Ron into a fight,
right here outside of Potions. This sort of thing never came out in Gryffindor's
favour. She shot a warning look at Ron, but he wasn't looking at her. He'd already
taken a step forward toward Malfoy.
"Of course," Malfoy continued, "it's not surprising. You'll
need to work for your tuition now that your father's been demoted. But then
it's like I always said. He wasn't cut out for the Ministry, was he -"
"YOU STINKING -"
"Ron, don't!" Hermione cried, as a flash of red hair lunged past
her and a pair of freckled arms stretched toward Malfoy's neck.
The corridor went silent.
Harry stood there, his wand only halfway raised, his green eyes narrowed and
deadly. Hermione hadn't even seen him approach. He looked at Malfoy for a long,
quiet moment, as if daring him to proceed. Malfoy clenched his jaw, but lowered
his wand and stalked into the Potions classroom without looking back. Whatever
his father had told him about the events that had taken place at the end of
their fourth year, it had been enough to slow his temper around Harry. Apparently,
Malfoy wasn't keen on fighting with anyone that
had survived a duel with the Dark Lord.
"Ruddy coward," Ron muttered after him, shoving his wand back into
his belt with one
hand and raking his hair back with the other. He exchanged a dark look with
caught Hermione's eye. She hadn't realised that she'd been staring at him until
he glanced at her. "Well, don't look at me like that," he shot angrily.
"I was only - " But he wasn't allowed to finish. Pansy and her Slytherin
girlfriends swept between them and into the classroom. Hermione sighed and followed
them inside, trying to ignore Ron's glare. Snape had been beyond unbearable
lately, and it would only hurt Gryffindor if they walked in late to Potions.
Half an hour later, though, Ron still hadn't forgiven her.
"Harry, tell Hermione to hand me those beetle wings."
"Harry, tell Ron I can hear him quite well."
"Both of you get over it." Harry knocked the beetle wings in Ron's
direction and looked moodily toward Snape.
Hermione eyed him edgily. He really wasn't acting like himself, and he hadn't
been all day
long. "Harry," she ventured quietly after a moment, "is there
But the black look he turned on her made her voice die out. She glanced across
but he was refusing to meet her eyes. She sighed, and began carefully crumpling
beetle wings into her cauldron. She knew she'd have to do it just right, or
Sharpening Elixir would disintegrate a sword instead of enhancing it, and Snape
certain to test her results. He always did. He was just waiting to catch her
on a bad day.
"... no, just wait until later," Harry was mumbling now, in a very
low voice. Hermione
had to strain to hear Ron's answer.
"But did you, or what?"
"I told you later," Harry hissed.
"Did you what?" Hermione thumped down her mixing
bowl and crossed her arms. If the conversation had something to do with Harry's
mood, then she wanted to know about it. "What's going on?"
Harry jumped. "N-nothing." He swallowed, and
began to stab at his potion ingredients with the butt of his wand.
Hermione's eyes narrowed. "Harry, you've been acting
funny all day," she whispered. "If it's something to do with.... well,
with You Know Who, then you'd better just..." She stopped, noticing for
the first time that Harry's hair was very wet. "Why were you out in the
snow?" she asked curiously. "What went on in Divination?"
"Look, it's nothing," Harry retorted,
his face an unnatural shade of red. He flashed Ron a dirty look, as if to let
him know that he wasn't pleased to be having the conversation in the first place.
Ron merely glared across at Hermione. "Mind your
own business," he said shortly.
Hermione's mouth fell open. "Mind my own..."
she repeated, suddenly feeling very wounded. This year she felt she'd been left
out of more than she'd been let into, where Ron and Harry were concerned. Clearly,
whatever was going on, Ron knew about it and she didn't. She looked at him reproachfully.
"I thought what happened with Harry was my business," she said,
her voice more highly pitched than she'd intended.
"Look, don't talk about me like I'm not here, all
right?" Harry interrupted, stabbing even more vengefully into his cauldron.
"But Harry, if it's something to do with your scar..."
she attempted. She noticed that he seemed to grow more agitated by the second,
but she continued nonetheless. In her experience, that sort of reaction from
Harry only meant that she was right. "Remember what Dumbledore said about
"Hermione, he told you to shut up!" Ron interjected,
much more loudly than was normal, for a classroom. Several students turned their
Hermione gasped in indignation and turned to face Ron
entirely, forgetting, for a moment, that she was in Potions class. "Why
don't you shut up, Ron?" she retorted, too stung to care that people
were still looking at them. "Harry never told me to -"
Hermione, Ron and Harry sucked in a simultaneous breath.
Snape was standing to the side of their table, leaning over Ron with a gleam
of satisfaction in his black eyes. There were bags underneath them, Hermione
noticed briefly. As if he hadn't slept in a long time.
"Is the famous Trio spatting?" Snape asked
softly, his lips spreading in a thin smile. "How novel."
Malfoy's snigger was audible from across the dungeon,
and Pansy's grating giggle burnt in Hermione's ears. "No, Professor, we
were -" she began.
"Detention, Granger," Snape interrupted, looking
as delighted as he ever had to award a punishment. "I do not tolerate excuses."
Harry and Ron released identical, involuntary sounds
Snape arched an eyebrow at them. "And...."
he paused. His eyes rested on Harry, but though he opened his mouth, he said
nothing. His pupils seemed to dilate for a moment, before his batlike gaze travelled
to Ron. "And Weasley," he concluded. "Come to my desk after class."
Snape turned so swiftly that his robes flew out behind him for a moment, then
stalked away to the front of the dungeon.
None of the three said another word for the remainder
of the class. Hermione finished her Potion ahead of time and perfectly, much
to Snape's obvious displeasure. He finally dismissed the class with a snarled,
"Until you can tell the difference between a beetle and a praying mantis,
Longbottom, I forbid you to return to this class. Out."
"Guess you won't be coming back then," said
Malfoy nastily as he passed behind Neville's desk. "You might as well go
back home to your Gran." He paused, flicked his ice blue eyes in
Harry's direction, and then checked either side of himself for Crabbe and Goyle
before continuing softly - "I hear she's very ill." Malfoy
made a fake sniffling noise, Crabbe and Goyle grunted with laughter, and the
three of them headed for the door of the dungeon.
"Right. That's it." Ron was on his feet along
with Harry, heading for the door, and for once Hermione wasn't about to stop
them. Neville's fist had clenched around his wand so tightly that the knuckles
had gone white, and his whole body seemed to be shuddering. She moved quickly
around her cauldron, towards his chair.
"Oh, Neville," she said quietly. "Don't
listen. Your Gran will be all right." Neville wouldn't look at her, but
even by his profile, she could see that his eyes were wet. She put out a hand
to comfort him.
"Granger. Weasley. My desk. Now."
Hermione's head snapped up and she met Snape's compassionless
gaze. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ron freeze in the doorway, his wand
out. He said something very quiet that might have been a swear word, as Harry
continued out into the corridor without him. There was a muffled shout from
Malfoy, and the sound of large, boatlike feet pounding away down the hall. Then
Realising that she wouldn't be allowed to help Neville
for the time being, Hermione sighed and touched his arm briefly, then headed
for Snape's desk, seething inwardly that Malfoy could get away with such cruelty
in front of a teacher. It astounded her that Snape could be so loyal to Dumbledore,
and, at the same time, act so unfairly towards many of the students with whom
Dumbledore worked. She often wondered, though, how much of Snape's excessive
cruelty toward Gryffindor was merely for show, this year. Perhaps he was only
making sure to keep Slytherin suspicions at bay.
"How will the noble Potter fare without his
chaperones, for an evening?" Snape began silkily, his smile entirely unkind
as he looked from Hermione to Ron, and back again. "I understand it isn't
safe to let him out of your sight. Ah well."
Or maybe it isn't for show after all.
Ron made an irritated noise. "Can we just have our
detentions?" he asked, from between clenched teeth. Hermione kicked his
shoe. He was making it worse.
"So eager to serve your punishment?" Snape
laughed lightly. "My, my. I never thought I'd encounter a deferential Weasley."
Ron had kicked Hermione back, and she hadn't been expecting
it. She struggled to maintain her composure, wanting nothing so much as to turn
on him and holler something awful. He'd been acting like a child since the beginning
of class and she was sick of it.
Snape paused. He looked from their faces to their feet,
and suddenly his unpleasant leer became a look of disgust. "How appropriate,"
he muttered, more to himself than to them. Hermione frowned, unsure of his meaning.
"Perhaps," Snape said finally, "considering
your... violent tendencies... the two of you would be best put to work
in the far greenhouse. I understand that Professor Sprout has been having difficulty
with the Python Blossoms." He pronounced the last two words with especial
Ron groaned outright, and Hermione knew why. He and Harry
had already made a mess of themselves, wrestling with the Python Blossoms, and
Snape probably knew all about it. Having no desire to be stuck in a greenhouse
in the snow with a very unpleasant plant and an even more unpleasant Ron, Hermione
spoke up. "Professor..." she ventured, "...you do know
it's snowing rather hard outside?"
"Yes." Snape smiled, his usual joyless grin
back in its place. "The detention will begin now, before too much snow
prevents it. You are dismissed to the greenhouses."
"You can't make us skip dinner!" Ron protested
at once. Hermione sighed. Snape could, and would.
"I believe I said now, Weasley," Snape
replied, alighting at his desk with a turn of his robes and beginning to measure
powdered vampire fangs into a vial. "Ten points from Gryffindor for exhibiting
poor listening skills, and I suggest you obey, before the punishment is doubled."
Hermione gathered her cloak and bag, and followed a very
red-eared, tight-lipped Ron from the dungeon. He didn't say a word to her until
they had climbed the stairs and come to the great oak doors of the entrance
"You had to nag Harry about his business, didn't
you? You just couldn't let it alone." Ron jerked the door open and leapt
back - a wild wind, full of snow, threatened to blast the heavy door flat into
Hermione stalked past him into the snow, lifting her
nose into the air. Let him deal with the door, she thought angrily,
walking as quickly as she could toward the greenhouses under the heavy weight
of her bag, not caring whether or not Ron could catch up with her.
He did, though, just moments later. Hang his long
"Thanks a whole bloody lot for the help!" Ron
shouted rudely over the wind. "We wouldn't be in this mess if you'd just
minded your business, so the least you can do is stop acting like a Little Miss
The rest of his insult was lost in a sudden gust of wind,
and Hermione was glad. Her ire was up, and her temper was strong, but that didn't
mean she could stand to be called names by Ron. Rather than risk a show of hurt,
she hustled forward, kept her face turned away, and made for the greenhouses
as quickly as she could.
Professor Sprout let out a shout of surprise when the
greenhouse door banged open and Hermione stormed in. "Close it!" cried
the Professor, raising her earth-covered hands in the air. "Quickly! The
temperature! The plants!" She pointed her wand and brought the door slamming
shut, just as Ron stomped inside. The door smacked him hard in the rear and
sent him sprawling to the greenhouse floor.
Hermione laughed aloud. Ron glowered up at her with a
face as red as his hair. He got to his feet and advanced on her, opening his
mouth to say something that Hermione anticipated was not very nice. She stared
insolently up at him, waiting.
"What on earth?" Professor Sprout cut
in, before Ron could make a sound. She eyed them beadily. "My last class
was an hour ago. With Ravenclaw sixth years. Or else I'm dotty."
Hermione shook her head quickly, stepped away from Ron,
and explained what they were there to do.
Professor Sprout folded her arms across her robes. "And
he sent you out here without supper, did he?" she said dryly. "Well.
Let's make quick work of it, then, and get you back to the castle before the
snow keeps us here all night."
Hermione glanced briefly at Ron, who caught her eyes
and gave her a look that plainly said he'd blame her for it, if they were stuck
in the greenhouses until morning. She smirked back at him, and pulled on a pair
of gloves that had cleats studding the palms and fingers.
I'll show him how to wrestle a Python Blossom.
Two hours passed, during which Ron swore loudly twice,
Professor Sprout pretended not to hear him, and three cups of sticky violet
pollen were collected. The wind now howled and whistled around the greenhouse,
and Hermione could only barely make out the castle's turrets through the blizzard.
It was almost impossible to tell that the sky was dark; it was so very white
"That'll be it, then," Professor Sprout panted, grasping the throat-like
plant that Ron had been working on and holding it away from her face.
It swung back and forth, sneezing a blast of purple directly at Ron, who threw
up his hands against it, looking highly rankled. His collar was entirely purple.
Hermione stepped away from her blossom, which had coiled in sleep as she had
stripped its pollen, and checked her clothes. They were pristine.
"Go on up back to the school before the snow gets
any worse," Professor Sprout commanded, stroking down the side of the thick,
scaly stem of the Python Blossom. It grew slightly more docile at her touch,
but was not yet entirely calm. "I'll fix this one up, don't wait for me.
Get back to your tower and for goodness' sake, stop by the hospital wing if
you get too wet, or Madam Pomfrey will hunt me down when you get ill."
Hermione promised that they would. She deposited her
cleated gloves into the bin, pulled on her snow ones, secured her cloak around
her shoulders, and slung her bag onto her back. With Ron behind her, she opened
the door, squinting against the certain onrush of snow.
Sure enough, the door blasted open, knocking her back.
Ron didn't stop to help her; perhaps in retaliation for her earlier refusal
to help him, he went quickly through the door and trudged into the snow without
looking back. Hermione hurried through the door herself and gave it a ferocious
yank, then turned to find that Ron had disappeared almost entirely. She could
only see the slightest glimmer of red, several meters off. The snow otherwise
"Ron!" she yelled, a slight panic beginning
to flutter in her stomach. She went toward the landmark of his hair as quickly
as she could. "Ron, stop!" But she knew he couldn't hear her. The
wind tore her voice away each time she attempted to speak, and Ron was getting
farther off by the second. Hermione shielded her eyes against the stinging snow
and squinted toward the castle as she stumbled forward.
She couldn't see it.
Hermione had never been in a blizzard in her life, but
she had read about whiteouts like this. Hastily, she turned back to see if she
could make it to the greenhouse; it was important to get inside, no matter where.
Barely, she could see the glint of glass that made up the Herbology buildings,
and she breathed a sigh of relief. She could get back and stay the night in
the greenhouse; it was better than getting horribly lost in the snow. She took
one step in that direction, and stopped, as a dreadful thought struck her.
What if Ron can't see anything, either?
Without a second thought she turned back toward the castle
and ran as fast as she could through the snow. "RON!" she shouted,
with all the voice she could muster. "I CAN'T SEE YOU, YOU HAVE TO STOP!"
She glanced over her shoulder and felt as though a brick had been dropped into
her gut. The greenhouse was no longer visible.
I can always turn around when I find him. I know which
way the greenhouses are. They're right behind me. Don't panic. Don't panic.
Panicked, she plunged ahead, wishing she were in her
seventh year of Charms with knowledge of powerful weather localisation spells.
Her eyes searched the white nothing in front of her, blinking rapidly against
what felt like whole drifts of snow. The sky was invisible, the castle was invisible,
and as irritated as she had been with Ron earlier, she would have given anything
for a glimpse of red -
"Oof! BLOODY - "
Hermione had banged against something tall and warm and
possessing a colourful vocabulary.
"RON!" she yelled, and threw her arms around
him. "I couldn't see you!"
"WHAT?" he hollered back. His arms were on
either side of her body, dangling as if they didn't know what to do. One big
hand patted her back clumsily after a moment and Hermione wondered how, in the
middle of a blizzard, she could feel her temperature rise.
She let him go. "WE HAVE TO GET INSIDE!" she
hollered at the top of her lungs.
Ron brought his face very close to hers, which was necessary,
she reminded herself, in order for them to see each other. "I CAN'T HEAR
YOU!" he bellowed. "WE HAVE TO GET INSIDE! THIS IS A BLIZZARD!"
"YOU DON'T SAY," Hermione yelled sarcastically.
Ron shook his head to indicate he still hadn't heard
her. "WHAT?" he shouted. "NEVER MIND! WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT SPELL
YOU GAVE HARRY? THE COMPASS ONE?"
Hermione shivered and wracked her brain. The compass
one, the compass one, the - "THE FOUR POINT SPELL?" she shouted
Ron grimaced in frustration and Hermione wondered if
he had a hearing problem. She could make his words out, after all. He
withdrew his wand and slapped it onto his palm, as if to demonstrate what he
was talking about.
"I KNOW!" Hermione hollered, annoyed. "I
JUST SAID THE FOUR POINT - Oh, bother, never mind," she muttered
to herself, pulling her own wand and laying it flat on her hand. But before
she lifted her fingers from it, she paused. It wasn't going to work. The moment
she picked up her hand, the wand was going to go flying off in the wind, and
then she wouldn't even have that much to protect her. She shook her head at
Ron. "IT'S NO GOOD! I'LL LOSE MY WAND!"
Ron began to shake his head at her again in a deaf manner,
and Hermione gave an impatient scream. She took up her wand and made a flying
gesture in front of his face with it, trying to show that it would get lost
if she let it go. Ron watched her attempts for a moment, then broke out laughing.
"WHAT THE HELL IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE?" he
hollered, when he had regained some semblance of composure. "IS THAT SOME
KIND OF SECRET LOCKHART MOVE?"
Hermione clapped her hands over her face. He was insufferable,
he couldn't hear her, they didn't know what direction they were walking in,
and it was, all in all, a terrible situation.
Well, but at least I found him, she couldn't help
reflecting. And before she'd really thought about it, she had reached out, grabbed
Ron's gloved hand in her own, and begun tugging him in what she hoped was a
"YOU DON'T KNOW WHERE WE'RE GOING, DO YOU?"
Ron shouted over the wind, gripping her hand tightly.
"Maybe I don't," she replied in a normal voice,
knowing he'd never hear her even if she shouted. "But it's better to walk
than to just stand there freezing, and we have to find shelter or we'll die
on our own school grounds, and that's not a comforting thought, and eventually
we're bound to run into something or other, I mean, honestly, the castle's enormous,
we have to see it sooner or later, and besides, I don't see you having any better
The rushing out of words somehow made Hermione feel better
- more powerful - she marched forward with new strength, pulling Ron along with
her and continuing to rant.
"You always question everything I do like it's not
quite trustworthy and I don't understand it, because you know that I'm
smart, and how many times have I got us out of scrapes! When are you ever going
to listen to me? You and Harry ignore me, and then you always wish you hadn't!"
Hermione tossed her head. She'd wanted to say that to
Ron for a long time and it felt good to get it out, even if he couldn't hear
her at all. She wiped snow out of her eyes and trudged on, feeling lighter with
every step and every word, though her feet were beginning to feel like blocks
"And then I just try to find out if Harry's all
right and all you do is hand me trouble for it! Trying to blame that detention
on me, how dare you! You two hide things from me all the time lately and I hate
it so much, and I know you only do it because I'm the girl, and I can't help
being a girl and I want to know what is happening! Haven't I been there
for everything? Have I ever broken a promise or told a secret?"
She sucked in a breath.
"And it hurts when you call me names, Ron Weasley.
It really hurts. Because I - "
Hermione stopped. She didn't trust even a wind this strong
to carry her next words away before they were heard. Ron's hand was still tight
around her own and she sighed.
"HEY!" Ron let go of her hand and hurried in
front of her, to nudge a pile of snow with his shoe. "IT'S THE LAKE!"
The pile of snow he'd nudged was sinking into a wet and slushy mass, and Hermione
realised that Ron was right. "IF WE GO UP THIS HILL -" Ron turned
in the direction he meant, " - THEN WE'LL RUN RIGHT INTO THE CASTLE!"
He turned and grabbed Hermione's hand again. "COME ON! MY FEET ARE FROZEN!"
"REALLY, BECAUSE MINE ARE LOVELY, TOASTY WARM,"
Hermione hollered at his back, as she struggled to keep up with him. He threw
her a maddening grin over his shoulder, and she felt her heart seize up slightly.
Had he heard her say that? No, she promised herself quickly. No, he
can't hear you. He didn't hear you.
They managed through the snow for what seemed like another
hour, when Hermione finally had to stop. She tugged her hand out of Ron's and
let her book bag slide off of her back. It was too much to carry, for so long
a time, and she imagined that wearing it on the front for awhile would help
to alleviate her sore muscles. She began to lace one arm through a strap, when
the bag was seized from her hands.
"GOT IT," Ron yelled, throwing it over his
arm and staggering to the side. He straightened up after a second and grinned
again. "JUST KIDDING!"
It was on the tip of Hermione's tongue to yell that she
could carry it herself - but she held back. There was something about his gesture
that she didn't want to ruin. Besides, her back really did hurt, and she was
terribly cold. "Thank you," she mouthed instead, her eyes meeting
Ron must have read her lips, because he shrugged awkwardly
and his ears went pinker than the cold had already made them. Hermione smiled
at him and took his hand once more - marvelling at how comfortable it was to
hold hands now that there was a good excuse for it - then kept on walking, thinking
how oddly nice it was to see her book bag on Ron's shoulder. Her stomach did
its funny twist, again.
It wasn't much longer before Ron stumbled on something
and fell forward. He let out a holler of pain and jumped back. "SOMETHING
STABBED ME!" he yelled, pointing ahead.
Hermione stepped in front of him quickly and felt around
in front of them with her hands. She hollered out happily when her hands closed
around something solid; she brushed snow off of it quickly and, though she was
entirely exhausted, jumped up and down in delight. "IT'S HAGRID'S PUMPKIN
PATCH!" she cried out. "YOU GOT STABBED BY ONE OF THE GATE STAKES!"
She grabbed for Ron's hand and put it on the gate so he could follow, then felt
along the stakes until she came to a corner. She rounded it, keeping contact
with her hands until the toes of her boots hit up against a wall.
Hagrid's cabin. She put her hands up against it and laughed
with relief. "Oh, Hagrid," she sighed, into the wind and snow. "We
miss you." With Ron at her heels, she edged along the wall and came around
front, to the door.
"ALOHOMORA!" she shouted. The door to
Hagrid's hut flew open. Hermione, Ron, and a good amount of snow tumbled through
For the first several minutes, they didn't speak. They
were far too cold. Ron shut the door tightly, then tore off his cloak, gloves
and scarf, his teeth chattering wildly. He dropped his own and Hermione's book
bags into a chair, pulled his wand and started a fire in the grate, then began
to remove his shoes. Hermione threw down her soaking cloak and gloves as well
and joined him on the rug before the fire, taking off her shoes and socks as
quickly as she could and holding her feet near the flames. The fire soaked through
her wet clothes and made even her bones warm again as the storm continued to
"Oh... wow...." Ron had fallen onto his back
and lay with his heels on the hearthstone, his toes sticking up in the air,
his arms splayed out, his eyes shut.
Hermione watched him, taking advantage of his closed
eyes to look at the whole length of him, from his bare feet to his wet hair.
She had the most powerful urge to lie back next to him and put her head on his
outstretched arm. She stayed sitting up, and looked around the cabin, instead.
It was just one room, but it seemed very big and empty, without Hagrid to fill
"It's so weird," Ron yawned, "to come
in here and not hear Fang barking his crazy head off."
Hermione smiled. "Not to have Hagrid try to feed
us rocks with our tea."
"Or see some evil, bloodsucking creature growing
in a box in the corner."
"I know," Hermione agreed. "I'm so glad
no one else wanted to live here, while he's gone. That would be... just wrong,
somehow. I wonder how things are coming along with the giants?" She looked
up at Hagrid's crude mantle and saw a little pot that looked awfully like the
one that the Weasleys used for their Floo powder. She sighed heavily. "I'd
think at least Hagrid would know you can't use Floo powder on Hogwarts
grounds," she said, feeling a little disappointed.
Ron opened his eyes. "What?" He squinted at
the little pot. "Oh, that isn't Floo powder. It's the other kind, for sticking
your head in the fire." He shut his eyes again and sighed contentedly,
running his fingers through his hair and making it stick up. "That was
incredible, out there. We easily could have died. Frozen solid. We're really
lucky I pointed us in the right direction."
Hermione smirked. "You thought you were taking
us to the castle."
"Castle, cabin, whatever. We're inside." Ron
began to scratch at the skin beneath the purpled collar of his robes.
Hermione rolled her eyes, and got to her feet. "Yes,
and we need to get to the castle. Do you know how to work that sort of powder?
I've never used it."
Ron opened one eye and stared at her incredulously. "Get
to the castle? Hermione, I'm not sure if you noticed the BLIZZARD outside."
"I'm not going to go out walking in the whiteout,
Ron." She let out an impatient breath. "I just need to get my head
to the castle. We need to let a teacher know where we are so that they don't
all worry. So that Harry doesn't worry. How do I make my head end up
in the Teacher's Lounge fire?"
"Hack off Snape again and I'm sure he'll throw it
in there for you," Ron muttered, his hands now tearing at his collar. "This
thing is killing me," he growled.
"You're probably allergic to the pollen that you
got all over yourself." She reached for the little jar.
"I noticed you got the nice, sleepy flower
to work with," he grumbled, unfastening the top of his robes.
Hermione stared at what his fingers were doing, then
looked quickly away. "We had exactly the same type of flower, Ron. Only,
I read the chapter on techniques for soothing aggressive plants, and
you skipped it because it wasn't going to be on the test."
"Nice of you to give me a lecture when my skin's
practically coming off -"
"Well then take your robes off and stop complaining!"
Hermione retorted. She gasped slightly, and froze.
I did not just say that.
She turned away entirely toward the fireplace, avoiding
the look of shock on Ron's face. Her own face burned. It was even worse when,
a moment later, she heard Ron get up behind her and walk across the creaky floor
to the other side of the room.
"Don't turn around," he said shortly.
Hermione heard the sounds of bureau drawers being opened
and shut, and the further sound of something like wet fabric hitting the floor.
She tried to breathe.
I've lost it. I've really lost it, she repeated
over and over to herself, picking up the little powder jar in an effort to focus
her mind on something other than the fact that Ron was standing behind her without
any clothes on. She lifted the ceramic lid on the jar and peered inside, feeling
her heart, which had just been pounding horribly, sink in disappointment. There
was nothing in the jar but a tiny little spoon that Hermione couldn't even imagine
Hagrid using. It would get lost between his giant fingertips.
"Oh, no," she sighed aloud, hoping that none
of the teachers would go stumbling out into the snow to find them, but knowing
that they would.
"What's wrong?" asked Ron, behind her. Hermione
"It's just there isn't any powder," she stammered,
feeling herself blush, "so we won't be able to tell anyone where we are.
Can I.... erm... can I turn around yet?"
Ron coughed. "Okay," he said, his voice cracking.
Hermione drew breath and turned, hoping that she didn't
look as red and nervous as she felt. Her eyes fell on Ron. Her mouth fell open.
"Ron!" she gasped, pressing all her
all her fingers to her mouth in order to stem the tide of giggles that threatened
to break loose. "What - what are you - wearing?!" She couldn't help
it. The giggles got past her fingers and she shrieked with laughter.
Ron had taken off his robes, after all. He was
now wearing an enormous blue shirt of Hagrid's, which fitted him like a tent.
He raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms, making the picture even funnier.
"What's so funny?" he accused. "I was
wet and you said I was allergic. And it's no different from pyjamas."
He paused. "It's definitely no worse than my ruddy dress robes," he
Hermione calmed down, after several minutes, but had
caught a mild case of the hiccups, from laughing so hard.
"Your dress robes - hic - aren't that - hic
- bad, Ron," she assured, gesturing to the blue tent.
"Admit it's not a great improvement," he challenged.
"Lace cuffs, they had."
Hermione didn't answer. She had been trying not to think
about dress robes. She had been trying - very hard - not to think about dances.
It was hard for her to accept that after all the signs she'd thought she'd seen
last year, Ron still didn't want to invite her to a Ball. But she wasn't about
to bring it up. She remembered, all too well, the last talk they'd had about
invitations and dances.
"Actually - hic - I think I'll put on a -
hic - dry shirt, too," she said, by way of avoiding the question.
She went across the room to Hagrid's strangely small dresser, and Ron spun immediately
to face the wall, covering his eyes with his hands. Hermione looked at the back
of his neck for a moment, felt a shiver of something almost wicked run through
her, then went about her business.
There were small personal effects scattered across Hagrid's
bureau: elastics that Hermione guessed he must have used for his bunches last
year, a bottle of that horrid eau de cologne he'd practically bathed in - Hermione
snorted softly. She wondered if he and Madame Maxime.... but she put that thought
out of her head. There was a framed picture of Hagrid with his dad sitting on
his shoulder. There was also a crude, wood-handled mirror lying face-up, and
Hermione couldn't help peeking down into it. She caught sight of herself, sighed,
and looked away.
She opened Hagrid's middle drawer, found an enormous,
chequered shirt that would doubtless conceal everything, and pulled it out.
"I'm not looking," Ron called out abruptly,
his voice cracking again.
Hermione suppressed a laugh. Ron's voice had been doing
that a lot, lately, but she knew, somehow, that he wouldn't be able to stand
it if she laughed. There were some things a person could get teased about, and
some that... Well. She just wouldn't laugh.
"I know you're not looking," she answered
loftily, "because I'm going to change in the loo."
"Huh?" Ron turned around, looking impatient.
"Well, why didn't you just tell me that? Here all this time I thought you
He stopped before finishing the word, and flushed to
the roots of his hair. The two stood frozen and stared at each other for a long
second, and Hermione felt quite rooted to the spot. He'd thought she... had
he been standing there thinking about...?
Ron looked quite definitely as though he wouldn't be
able to move or speak first.
Marshalling every scrap of dignity she possessed, Hermione
closed Hagrid's bureau drawer, picked up her school bag, and disappeared with
the chequered shirt into the tiny little loo at the back of Hagrid's hut.
The moment she was safely alone, she dropped her bag
with a clunk! and buried her face in Hagrid's shirt. The wind whistled
on the other side of the rough wooden wall, and she shivered, working not to
cry. Breathe, Hermione. It's nothing. It's fine. Pretend it didn't happen.
She steadied herself, tore off her uncomfortably wet school robes as quickly
as she could, and dove into the makeshift night-dress. She then dug into her
school bag, grabbed her diary and one of the self-inking quills she'd purchased
during the last trip to Hogsmeade, and hastily sat on the toilet seat to write.
Gwen, don't say anything, I only have a second.
I'm trapped in Hagrid's cabin with Ron and there's a blizzard out, and we're
going to have to stay the night here by ourselves.
And I'm not supposed to say
I just wanted to tell you that I'm all right;
we made it safely out of the snow and didn't freeze to death, and now it's all
And that's all you want to
While you're trapped in the
snow with Ron.
Oh, Gwen. Help.
It's this whole stupid situation. We were wet
- you know, from the blizzard - so we had to change clothes, and Ron changed
while I was facing the wall, and then he faced the wall so I could
change, but I wasn't about to change out there in front of him, even if his
back was turned! So I told him I was coming into the loo and then he
said I should have just told him that because he was standing there facing the
wall the whole time I was finding a shirt, thinking I was... naked. He said
that. Well, very nearly said it. And then we just looked at each other.
And now I cannot go back out there.
You're going to stay in the
I don't know. I can't DO THIS. We held hands
in the snow. I even hugged him out there. Oh, I'm such an idiot. He knows,
he knows, I know he knows -
He doesn't know. They never
Promise me that that's true. PROMISE.
I promise, cross my heart.
He may wonder, Hermione, but I'd even doubt that much. He doesn't know. Now
listen to me. Have you let a teacher know where you are?
We can't. There's no way to do it. I tried.
Are you ill? Are you warm?
Have you had anything to drink?
No, I haven't. We've been too cold to do much
of anything but light a fire and get dry. We haven't had supper either, because
Snape wouldn't let us before he sent us out into a blizzard for
detention. Oh, if we'd died out there, wouldn't he be sorry. Actually, never
mind. He wouldn't be sorry at all.
What I want you to do is go
and get something to eat, and drink a bit of water, and go to sleep. You need
rest. And do talk to me in the morning, please, or I'll worry.
Sleep. I don't know where we're going to sleep.
Oh, Gwen. I just realised that now. I don't know where we're going to sleep!
What do you mean? Isn't there
Well, I mean, YES, but there's only ONE!
Then you take it. If Ron is
any kind of gentleman -
Gwen, honestly -
and I somehow imagine that he is, then he won't even think twice about letting
you have it.
But... well, what about him?
But Hermione slammed her diary shut. Ron had rapped on
"What are you doing in there?"
"Go away, Ron!" she answered shrilly,
stuffing Gwen quickly in among her books and straightening the enormous chequered
shirt. She made sure that the huge neck-hole was pushed well back and showed
nothing but neck.
Ron made a noise of disgust. "Just like Ginny, hogging
Hermione gathered her things and opened the door. "I
am not hogging anything. I was changing." She stalked to
the chair, set down her bag, and lay her wet robes over the arms. She set them
to dry with a spell, noticing that Ron's school robes were still lying in a
wet lump on the floor. She left them there.
"Hey, drink that upside-down," Ron said suddenly,
pointing to an open bottle of butterbeer on the table. "Mum makes us do
that for hiccups." He headed into the bathroom himself, and shut the door.
"My hiccups are gone," Hermione answered vaguely,
picking up the butterbeer and looking from its label to the door of the loo.
Ron was so... unexpected. She sat at the table and held the bottle by its neck,
twirling it around on the base and musing. He was so insulting. And thoughtful.
She felt a warmth in her stomach, as if she'd already drunk the butterbeer in
There was a sound of running water, the creak of hinges,
and then Ron reappeared.
"How," he asked, standing in the door frame
with his arms crossed and shaking his head gravely, "does Hagrid do it?"
Hermione frowned. "Do what?"
"Fit in the loo." Ron appeared to be thinking
hard about the answer.
"Well... perhaps it's an Enlargement Charm, like
the ones on the tents we used last year," Hermione offered helpfully.
Ron nodded. "Or maybe he, you know, just stands
outside the door and aims for -"
But he didn't hear her; he had seized up with laughter.
Hermione took a dainty sip of butterbeer and sniffed in distaste. Ron ignored
this entirely and, after he'd got hold of himself, padded over to the shelves
of tankards and teacups that were built against the wall. He picked out an enormous
tankard and clapped it onto the table along with his wand, then went on rummaging
"Oh," said Hermione, lifting her butterbeer
slightly. "Are you having one, too?"
"That was the only one," Ron answered, pulling
out several lumpy looking packages from a cupboard and piling them on the table,
before going toward a large, wooden bucket with a lid, which stood beneath the
Hermione watched him, holding her butterbeer tightly,
feeling very much the way she felt whenever Ron stood up to Malfoy for her.
As if, no matter what happened, she would be quite taken care of. Her heart
"We can share this one, then," she said, moving
to pour half of it into Ron's tankard.
"No, honestly," he replied, lifting the lid
on the bucket and grinning into it. "You have it. I found something else."
He grabbed his tankard, dipped it into the bucket, replaced the lid and sat
down across from Hermione. "Hungry?" he asked, and began to tear open
one of the lumpy packages.
Hermione pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at his
tankard. "What's that you're drinking?" she asked, wondering if she
wanted to know the answer.
"Mulled mead," Ron replied, unveiling two charred-looking
bits of heavy pastry. He grimaced. "Hagrid, you're killing me."
"But, Ron," pressed Hermione doubtfully, "Hagrid's
been away for nearly six months! That mead can't be good - it'll've grown some
sort of fungus!"
"Nah." Ron opened another package and sighed
heavily at the pile of rock cakes he found. "It's mulled, in the first
place, so it keeps for longer than normal stuff. And secondly, last summer,
I watched Dad show Bill how to keep it drinkable for months. You can charm it.
I'm sure Hagrid does."
Hermione was not quite satisfied. "Well, even if
it isn't poisoned," she said, in a tone of voice that suggested
it probably was, "isn't it very strong alcohol?"
Ron bit apart the string on a third package and tore
open the paper. "I dunno," he replied, spitting the string onto the
table, "but I'll tell you once I've drunk it. Yes!" He held up a brick
of Hagrid's treacle fudge. "This, I can eat." He picked up his wand.
The treacle fudge rose into the air and Hermione watched
it, feeling a twang in her middle. It was silly, she knew, but she couldn't
help flashing back in time as he said that spell. It put her in mind of a very
heavy club, which had dropped onto the head of a very ugly troll.
"Mobilicuppedus!" Ron pointed his wand
and sent the fudge to hover above the hearthstone, just outside the open fire.
Hermione smiled at him and took a drink of butterbeer.
"Your Latin's very good," she commended.
Ron shrugged casually. Only the very tips of his ears
were telltale pink. "I only know that one from going to Honeydukes so much."
He paused. "And from lifting candy from Fred and George." He sniggered,
then sighed, jerking a thumb toward the treacle fudge. "We can't eat that
thing till it softens, but I'm starving. Of course, I wouldn't eat it
if I wasn't starving. Harry and I made a pact we wouldn't touch Hagrid's cooking
unless we were literally dying of malnutrition."
Hermione laughed, but quickly grew quiet. She hadn't
thought much about Harry since she and Ron had been given detention - that seemed
days ago now. Her mind turned back to the classroom earlier, and she remembered
the dark look on his face and the whispered conversation that he'd had with
"Ron, what's the matter with Harry?"
Ron looked at her, then shifted his eyes away. He raised
his tankard and took a deep swig. "Weird," he muttered, peering into
the cup before he clanked it on the table again. "I thought it'd taste
different. It's not that bad, though. Want to try it?" He held out the
tankard toward her.
"Please don't ignore my question." Hermione
tapped her fingertips against her bottle. "I know that you and Harry have
some secret and he's so unsafe with the Dark Lord back... I just want
to be sure it isn't to do with anything dangerous."
"It isn't," Ron answered briefly. "I should
put a plate under that." He got up, grabbed a plate from the shelves, and
set it beneath the fudge, which had barely begun to soften around the edges.
Irritated with his cryptic answer, Hermione crossed her
arms. "And that's really all you're going to tell me."
Ron sat back down and shrugged. "Yeah. It is."
He picked up the tankard and took another long drink, obviously not intending
to explain himself further.
"Fine. If that's the way you're going to be about
it." Hermione stood stiffly and went to her school bag. She withdrew her
diary and quill, put her butterbeer and wand on the bedside table, and threw
herself onto Hagrid's massive bed.
"Oh, come on," Ron attempted.
Hermione ignored him completely and opened her diary.
She stuck out her tongue and licked the nib of her quill.
"So you're just going to lie there and write in
your diary now?" Ron stomped across the room with his tankard. He stood
next to the bed and stared down at her back, and suddenly Hermione felt very
warm and annoyed and excited all at once.
"Yes I am," she said obstinately. "She
doesn't keep things from me like some people do."
Ron sucked in a breath.
Hermione realised her mistake. She slammed her face into
Hagrid's pillows. "Oh NO," she breathed, wishing with all her might
that she could somehow erase that last sentence. Never before in her life had
she thought of performing a Memory Charm, but she seriously considered trying
"I KNEW it!" Ron hollered, and Hermione
knew that he had jumped into the air because she felt the bed shake when he
landed. "I knew that diary was enchanted! HA! She doesn't
keep things from you, does she? HA! I was RIGHT!" He was hollering at the
top of his lungs, and he must have been doing some sort of victory dance because
his feet made pounding noises on the floor.
Hermione rolled over and sat up on her knees in a fury.
"YOU SHUT UP!" she hollered. "It is NONE of your business what
my diary is or is not!"
Ron grinned from ear to ear. He took several long gulps
from his tankard, clapped it on the table next to Hermione's butterbeer, and
flopped down to sit on the bed. He leaned in close and, quite against her will,
Hermione caught the scent of wet hair and mulled mead and highly-gratified Ron.
They were eye to eye.
"Terribly sorry, Miss Granger," he said, in
a voice very low and sad, like Nearly-Headless Nick's, "but I'm afraid
the cat's out of the bag." He snickered, and returned to being Ron. "C'n
I see it?" He reached for the diary.
Hermione gripped it immediately with both hands and clutched
it to her chest. "Don't you dare!" she seethed. "How could
you, Ron?" She sat back on her heels and glared at him, feeling reproachful
and angry -- and horribly irritated with herself for feeling her knees so acutely,
where they touched the side of his leg.
Ron's self-satisfied expression faltered, somewhat. "How
could I what? I didn't do anything," he said defensively.
"You tried to take my diary just now. And
you tricked me out of a secret." Hermione knew she'd slipped up all on
her own, but she didn't care. Somehow it truly seemed to be Ron's fault. "On
top of which, you won't even tell me what's going on with Harry, and he's not
just your friend, he's mine, too, and it's not... You're just..." She sniffled.
"Leave me alone."
Ron's smile was gone. In its place was a pleading sort
of expression. "I can't tell you what I was talking about with Harry because
I promised I wouldn't," he stated simply. "Honestly, I'm not trying
to make you mad."
Hermione searched his eyes for a moment. He was telling
She sighed quietly, as a weight settled onto her heart.
"I can't believe Harry doesn't want me to know things," she said softly,
not even realising that she'd said it aloud. "After all we've..."
She tailed off, suddenly very tired. She got to her feet and replaced Gwen in
her bag, finished off her butterbeer and set it on the table. Upon returning
to bed, she ignored Ron, climbed past him, and got beneath the patchwork quilt,
facing the wall. She shut her eyes.
"It's just not that kind of thing,"
Ron pleaded. "It really isn't. It's not about his scar or You Know... Voldemort...."
His voice went up a notch.
Hermione turned over on her back at once, and looked
up at Ron. He'd only ever said the Dark Lord's name in Harry's presence, because
Harry wouldn't tolerate anything else this year. But Ron had never said 'Voldemort'
before, when it was just the two of them together. He looked down at her quite
seriously now, and she felt a thrill run around in her ribs.
"It's all right," she whispered. "You
don't have to tell me."
"Hermione..." Ron exhaled sharply and raked
a hand through his hair, making it stick up again. "Think hard. What was
Professor Sprout's last class, before we got there tonight?"
She blinked up at him. What an odd question. "She
said she had the sixth year Ravenclaws, didn't she?"
"Yeah. And at what time?"
Hermione frowned. Ron was being really weird. She scooted
back in bed and sat up a little on her elbows to think. "I think she said....
her class had ended an hour before we got there. What does this have to do with
Ron waved her off. "And in Potions, d'you remember
what you asked Harry?"
"I don't.... I can't remember."
"I don't believe that," Ron said dryly. "Miss
Granger of the four hundred and twenty eight million Gryffindor brainpower points?
Think a bit harder."
Hermione felt herself flush with pleasure and annoyance.
"I just asked him what was going on," she retorted.
"And also..." Hermione wracked her brain. "I
don't know, Ron! I don't even know why you're asking me all this!"
Ron gave her a withering look. "What class did we
have just before Potions," he asked slowly, through gritted teeth.
"I had Arithmancy. You had Divination." A light
flashed on in Hermione's brain. 'Divination! I asked Harry what was going on
in Divination to make his hair all wet!"
Ron nodded. "Right. And maybe his hair was wet because..."
Hermione stared up at Ron, comprehension finally dawning
on her. He was giving her clues. He couldn't tell her what was wrong
with Harry, so he was going to lead her to the answer. She sat straight up and
faced him, her heart fluttering with excitement. This was a puzzle. This was
"Well, his hair was wet because... was he out in
the snow? No, never mind, don't tell, I know you're not allowed. Okay, he was
out in the snow. During Divination? But why on earth would you have been out
in the snow during Divination? Oh - can't I ask any questions at all?"
The words tumbled out in a mad rush.
A smile was tugging at the corner of Ron's mouth. "You
can have one question," he granted, looking very pleased with himself in
his big blue shirt. He reached out for his tankard and took a gulp. "But
it has to be a yes or no."
Hermione thought hard, searching for her best possible
question. It was difficult, coming out of nowhere, but at least she could get
rid of one possibility.
"Did any part of the Divination class take place
outside today?" she asked breathlessly.
Ron grinned. "Nope," he answered.
Hermione gasped. "But if he was outside getting
his hair wet, that means he wasn't in class - no! Harry couldn't skive off the
lesson!" she protested, knowing full well that he probably had. "He
DID! It's a wonder the two of you pass your classes, honestly, the way
you go about things - though it's only Divination, after all." She sniffed
"If you're done lecturing?" Ron prodded.
"Oh, right." Hermione pushed her hair out of
her eyes and clasped her hands together in her lap. "So I've got... Harry
skipping Divination to go outside in the snow and..." Hermione paused.
Greenhouses, something about the greenhouses. "And if Professor
Sprout finished with the Ravenclaw sixth years an hour before we got there,"
she mused aloud, "then their Herbology class and your Divination class
were at the same time..."
Hermione's eyes flew wide open. She put a hand to her
mouth and looked at Ron. "Harry was trying to ask Cho to the Ball,"
she whispered through her fingers. "Wasn't he. Trying to catch her on her
way into the castle, or something."
Ron didn't meet her eyes, or answer. He took a long drink
and got to his feet, making the mattress shift. He replaced the tankard on the
bigger table and picked up his wand.
"Finite Incantatem," he said. The treacle
fudge fell with a squish! onto the plate below it.
But now that she had the answer to her question, Hermione
hardly knew what to say. She lay back on her pillow, watching Ron settle on
the floor by the bed as he began to eat the fudge.
"D'you want some?" he asked thickly.
She shook her head. She wasn't hungry in the slightest;
on the contrary, her stomach felt as though someone had tied it into a very
tight, painful knot. Harry and Ron were talking together about inviting girls
to the Ball - girls Hermione hardly even knew. Her heart sank in sympathy as
she thought of Ginny Weasley. She wouldn't be able to breathe even a word to
Ginny about this -- though it would, perhaps, be kinder to tell her. Hermione
glanced at Ron, who was concentrating on his makeshift dinner, and wondered
which random seventh year girl he was planning to ask this year.
I don't want to know.
"Goodnight, Ron," she said quietly, and turned
The room went very still. Hermione couldn't hear Ron
chew, or breathe - there was only the continuing howl of wind and snow, outside
the hut. A moment later, she heard him get to his feet, stumbling slightly.
There were footsteps, and the chink of a plate on wood, and then the light died
"Don't put out the fire," she called out, on
reflex. "We'll freeze."
"It's still lit, I just calmed it down."
There were more footsteps, then the sound of breathing
above her, very close to the bed. Hermione's heart leapt into her throat. He
was about to lie down next to her. But he wouldn't - Gwen had said that if he
was a gentleman... but then Gwen didn't really know Ron, and Ron had
been drinking from an awfully big tankard...
She felt him lift the second pillow from beside her head.
A moment later, she heard him stretching out on the floor. She felt a surge
"But what are you going to sleep under?" she
There was a pause.
"Nothing," Ron answered. His voice was strangely
loud in the dark, quiet room.
Hermione drew breath. "Well, I just don't know if
that's a good idea, what with the snow and everything. If the temperature drops
you could really get sick, and we've already been exposed to the elements for
such a long time today that I think you need a blanket." The words came
out without a second thought, and she congratulated her brain for coming up
with something believable on such short notice.
Ron didn't answer for a moment. "I think you have
the only blanket," he finally said.
"Oh." Hermione steeled her nerves. "Well
that's fine. It's very big, and I'm sure you can fit."
There was a silence in which the only sounds were those
of two people breathing unevenly
The floor creaked. Hermione jumped. Ron was getting to
his feet and walking toward the bed; there was the sound of something soft dropping
on the foot of the quilt and then there was the sensation of air moving beneath
the covers. Ron had lifted them up and was now getting under them. The mattress
seemed to sink and shift and move, then settle. There were a few more squeaks
as he apparently got comfortable, and then the room sank back into breathing
silence and the sounds of the storm.
"Do you have enough room?" Hermione asked faintly.
Her brow furrowed in bewilderment. Ron's voice had come,
not from beside her, but from somewhere near the foot of the bed. She rolled
over abruptly and was faced with two large, bare, freckled feet, which were
inches from her nose. She made a loud, exasperated sound before she could stop
"What?" Ron asked at once.
"Your feet are in my face," she snapped, suddenly
angry with him for reasons she didn't want to admit to herself.
Ron's extremities retracted beneath the covers at once.
"Yours are no treat, either!" he shot.
"You take that back!" she pulled in her legs,
and sat up to glare at him. She could just make out his scowl from the other
end of the bed, as he rolled over onto his stomach
Hermione flopped back onto her pillow and shut her eyes,
too frustrated with the situation to reply. Top and tailing wasn't at all what
she'd had in mind. Not that she'd had anything in mind exactly. She felt
her cheeks flush, and tried to pretend to herself that she hadn't been hoping
that something might happen. Gwen was right. He would have survived on the
He was shifting around a lot now, and making quite a
racket. There was a noise of mattress springs. Something heavy thudded to the
ground. It sounded as if Ron was rifling through paper and metal and cloth.
"What are you doing?" she demanded,
wondering just how much the mead had affected him, after all.
"Nothing." But it very clearly wasn't nothing
- Hermione opened her eyes and blinked up at a reflection of light on the ceiling.
She strained her eyes forward toward Ron, who was halfway hanging off the end
of the bed, doing something by the light of his wand.
"What's down there?"
"A trunk -" Ron managed, his voice strained,
as though he were moving something heavy. The mattress shifted violently.
"Hagrid's trunk?" Hermione asked disapprovingly,
resolving not to take part in whatever Ron was doing.
"No, Aidan Lynch's," Ron muttered, and then,
"Oh, cool! I can't believe he kept this."
Hermione struggled with herself. On the one hand, it
wasn't right to go through other people's things. On the other, she couldn't
help that her nature was inquisitive. Obeying her curiosity, therefore, she
crawled down to Ron's end of the bed and hung over it with him. She peeked into
the trunk. There, nestled in the folds of something massive and black and bearing
a faded Gryffindor crest, lay two jagged halves of a large, spotted eggshell.
"Ohhhh..." breathed Hermione, reaching out
a careful finger to touch the shell. "Norbert..." She stroked the
shell softly, remembering the day the dragon had been born, followed by the
incident on top of the Astronomy tower - the detention, the loss of points,
the devastation - she smiled. It hadn't mattered a bit, in the end.
"Baby Norbert," Ron snorted. "Ickle
baby Norbert - Hagrid still thinks he was that beast's mummy, I'll bet. 'Course,
he never bit Hagrid." Ron opened his hand on the sheets and shone
the light of his wand on it. "I should show him this scar when he gets
back from the giants. It'll probably make him all nostalgic."
Hermione stared at the pad of Ron's wrist. "I never
knew you had a scar," she said, inching closer to look. She felt their
upper arms touch, and a shiver ran across her back.
Ron made a funny strangled sound and cleared his throat.
"Yeah, well," he said gruffly, "it's not a big deal. It doesn't,
you know, tell me when the Dark Lord's around the corner, or make me pass out
in the middle of class."
"Let me see it -" Hermione slid her left hand
beneath Ron's and touched her right index finger to a very faint pair of white
marks. Ron's breathing was very near her ear, and she thought she could hear
him swallow. She remembered how simple it had been to hold his hand in the snow,
and wondered if she would always have to find an excuse for it. "Is this
where he bit you?"
Ron cleared his throat again. "Yes -" he managed,
but his voice cracked on the word.
Hermione bit her tongue hard, and went on as if she hadn't
heard it. "You never showed me." She drew a circle around each of
the tooth marks with her fingertip, and Ron sucked in a soft breath. Suddenly
Hermione felt inexplicably powerful. "You should be glad it doesn't make
you pass out in class," she told him quietly. "You don't want that,
They were silent for a moment.
"I know," he answered. His voice was low, now,
and warm, and Hermione could feel the vibration of it behind her ear, on her
neck. There was a nearly unbearable fist of heat in her belly, and blood pounded
in her ears. She stopped tracing her finger on Ron's wrist, but left her hand
resting lightly on his skin, unable to relinquish the contact. Through her mind
flooded images of all the things she wanted to do, and couldn't do. It was almost
nightmarish, to be this close, in the dark, in a bed, with his breath hot on
her neck, and not to be -
"I only opened Hagrid's trunk to see if I could
find an extra blanket." Ron's voice was so abrupt that Hermione started.
"I guess I can use his old school robes - they're big enough."
"What..." Hermione couldn't gather her thoughts.
"So my feet won't be in your face."
She gulped. "Oh. Right." Her heart raced. He
couldn't mean that he wanted to sleep on the floor. He couldn't. He adjusted
his body slightly, next to hers, and she felt the skin of his ankle against
her own. She steadied her voice and searched her brain for what she needed.
"There's nothing wrong with your feet, Ron," she heard herself say
briskly, "but I really don't think either of us should sleep at this end.
This bed is on a slope, or something - look." She lifted her hand from
his wrist and pushed on the end of the mattress, as if to demonstrate that it
was slanting downward. "All the blood will rush to our heads."
"And that's not good?" Ron asked immediately.
"It's very unhealthy."
"Oh." He got to his knees and pulled Hagrid's
trunk shut, then twisted around and hurled his pillow at the headboard. "Good
Hermione's disappointment in having lost contact with
Ron's hands was made up for by the fact that, within a minute, they were both
buried comfortably under the quilt on the same end of the bed. She lay facing
straight up as he settled in, not wanting to turn away from him and not trusting
herself to turn toward him. His leg brushed hers.
"Sorry," he muttered, and instantly pulled
it away. The room went quiet. They weren't touching at all. "'Night,"
Ron finally said. He rolled over and faced in the other direction.
A sinking, hollow feeling crashed into Hermione. It wasn't
good enough. This just wasn't good enough. There was an ache in her chest, so
big that it threatened to overwhelm her, and she felt a sense of sudden fear.
What if this is all there ever is? she asked herself, staring
unseeingly at the ceiling. It seemed a valid question. After all, she had initiated
everything that had happened so far. She had taken his hand. Both times.
She had made it all right for him to sleep beside her. Perhaps, all the time,
he'd just wanted to sleep on the floor. Maybe there was someone else he liked.
She didn't know. It wasn't as if he, or Harry, told her anything like that.
"Why didn't Harry want me to know?" she asked
suddenly, feeling her words disappear into the dark room. "What's the big
deal if he's inviting Cho? What does he think I'm going to do? Tease him about
it? Doesn't he know I'd never?"
Ron shifted beside her. "Dunno," he mumbled.
"I suppose you're not telling me the same
sort of thing," she forced out, feeling her face burn, "and it's just
silly. It's not as if I care who the two of you go with. That is, it's entirely
your business, of course, but you could tell me, you know." She
attempted to breathe, and found that her lungs were suddenly shallow. "You
can tell me anything you want."
Ron rolled over on his back, beside her. In her peripheral
vision she could see him staring up at the ceiling, too.
"We... just decided to keep it to ourselves, and
then do it," he admitted slowly, as if deciding to take Hermione
up on her word. "It sort of helped get it out of the way, last year. We
were s'posed to meet back at Gryffindor tonight, finished."
Hermione flinched. Then he did know whom he wanted
to take. He'd probably invited whoever it was, already. Her insides suddenly
felt very cold. "Oh," she said mildly.
"So did Harry manage, or...?"
Ron shrugged; Hermione felt it in the movement of the
mattress. "Tried to ask him in Potions but he didn't tell me. That's when
"Nagged him about his business."
It flew out of her before she could stop it.
"I didn't mean to say it like that -" he began.
Hermione tossed her head on the pillow. "Well, I
certainly won't nag you about yours," she managed, her throat tight. "You
must've been glad to get it out of the way today. Anyhow, I don't mean to keep
you up." She moved to turn away from him.
"I never got it out of the way." Ron's voice
was oddly strained. "Meant to do it before Potions. Got side-tracked."
Just as I thought. "Well, I'm sorry you ended
up in detention, or you could have done it afterwards instead." Hermione
wasn't sorry at all; in fact, she wished she'd never asked Ron any questions
about anything. The answers were painful to listen to. Still, she strove to
sound genuine. "Better luck tomorrow."
Ron cleared his throat. When he spoke, his voice was
barely audible. "I don't have to wait till tomorrow."
Hermione froze. She lay there motionless, listening to
the snow beat against the windows. Her heart drummed violently in her ribs.
Her fingers trembled. He can't mean....
"What are you talking about?" she breathed,
turning her head a fraction on the pillow in order to see his face
"Look, it's just - " Ron continued to stare
at the ceiling. His entire body tensed under the quilt and his voice seemed
incapable of choosing an octave. "Do you - d'you want to go together?"
The sounds of wind and snow seemed to vanish all at once.
A hush wrapped the one room cabin, muffling the outside world. Hermione stared
wonderingly at Ron's profile, not even searching for words. She couldn't answer.
Her heart had stopped.
Ron fidgeted and caught a short, necessary-sounding breath,
as if he hadn't breathed in several minutes. "I figured you were prob'ly
already going with someone," he said, his voice a dull, embarrassed rush.
Even in the dark, he managed to go red. "So that's fine - "
"Oh no - " Hermione gasped, finally finding
air enough to support her voice " - no, Ron, I want to go with you."
She blushed. Hard. That had been rather obvious.
But it didn't matter - nothing mattered - Hermione's entire education was presently
reduced to one, essential fact. Ron had asked her to the Ball. She would
be going with him.
He turned his head and looked at her. "You do?"
Her heart was either about to leap up out of her chest,
or else splinter into pieces. She rolled up on her elbow to face him. "Yes."
Ron's relief was evident in his grin, which appeared
in blinding force, making his eyes crinkle. "Good," he exhaled, laughing
a bit breathlessly. "That's ruddy over with."
"Then why didn't you just ask me before?"
Hermione exclaimed, unable to contain herself. Ron had asked her to the Ball.
Ron had asked her to the Ball. "If it's so horrible, why
not just do it early on?"
"Why don't you do it next time, and see how
you like it," he retorted. "It's evil, I'm telling you. You whine
about being a girl, but you're lucky for it."
"Thanks a lot." But though Hermione
tried, she couldn't even get angry.
"Oh, don't get missish. You know what I meant."
"Well, I don't see what there was to be worried
about," she reprimanded, looking down at his upturned face. "It's
Ron didn't answer. He looked up at her simply and then,
to Hermione's great shock, he picked up one overlarge hand and awkwardly reached
behind her shoulder. He tugged backwards on the collar of the enormous chequered
shirt, making the whole thing shift upwards on her chest until the top button
touched her throat.
Hermione stared at him, startled, then realised all at
once why he must be doing this. She clutched at the shirt with both hands, pressing
it close to her body. The very large neck hole must have been hanging off of
her - revealing... she didn't even want to think what. Her face burned.
"It's okay," Ron said quietly, and took his
hand down from her shoulder. His arm remained stretched flat out across her
pillow. "I didn't see anything."
"Oh, Ron!" Without thinking straight, Hermione
collapsed off of her elbow and buried her face in his shoulder. Partly, she
wanted to hide from the enormous confusion of everything - her embarrassment,
her unbelievable excitement, the unashamedly protective expression on Ron's
But mostly, she simply couldn't hold back for one more
second. She curled up beside him, feeling the warmth of him, sighing with a
shudder when his arm wrapped ungracefully around her shoulders and his fingers
touched her hair. She knew she couldn't look at him, and she didn't have any
idea what to do, or how to move, but she couldn't stop her heart from shouting
happily. This was real. And right.
"You don't mind," she sniffled timidly into
his shoulder a moment later, "if we just sleep like this?"
Ron made a noise deep in his chest that served as a "No",
and moved a little, making them fit closer.
"Goodnight, then," she whispered, tentatively
putting her arm across him.
Ron sighed inaudibly, and Hermione felt it beneath her
outstretched elbow. He placed his hand on her forearm and lightly moved his
fingers back and forth.
Hermione lay very still, knowing that she'd never actually
sleep. Not like this. Not near him, like this, with her arm completely lost
in shivers. It would be impossible. She snuggled deeper into him and shut her
eyes, never having been so content. This made sense. This was good, and safe,
and she couldn't imagine how she'd ever gone without it, though it was still
impossible to believe. When Ron's head moved, she tensed slightly, fearing he
might break apart from her and end it.
The next thing she felt was the startlingly soft pressure
of his mouth on the top of her forehead. It lingered, then disappeared, leaving
a circle of heat where his lips had fallen. His breath stirred the little wisps
at her hairline and Hermione's own mouth fell open against his shirt, in shock.
Goose flesh had broken out on every inch of her.
"'Night, Hermione," he said hoarsely.
He kissed me. He kissed me. He kissed me.
She couldn't bear it. Where there had been contentment
just moments before, Ron had now created a powerful new emptiness. Hermione
felt she might whimper out loud -- there was only one way to quell it and, perhaps
because Ron had gone first, she was mostly unafraid to try. She lifted her head
from his shoulder and reached up her mouth towards his cheek, to reciprocate.
Her lips touched the hollow just above his jaw and she
felt his body stiffen; his fingers dug into her arm and hair. She left her mouth
on his cheek for a long moment, feeling how warm his skin was, and how soft,
breathing in the strangely sweet tang of him.
"Goodnight," she whispered, inches from his
ear, wondering how many times they had said goodnight already. She moved her
arm until her palm rested on his chest, which rose and fell rapidly, then lay
down her head and breathed against his neck. Again, she felt the strange sense
of holding some great power that had nothing to do with magic.
Ron's hand remained in her hair. He turned his face until
his breath fell on her forehead again, and Hermione swallowed hard, unable to
breathe, her mind in a fever of hope. She lifted her chin and felt it knock
against his. Fear and want flooded her. Her heart hammered unmercifully and
she could feel Ron's heart, too, pounding beneath her hand. They lay there together,
eyes half-shut, their breath mingling on the pillow until Hermione could no
longer stand it. She stretched toward him and, in the same instant, he made
a move towards her.
Hermione felt their noses crush together and heard Ron
panting; she pressed her ear further into the pillow so that her nose could
shift past his. At the same time, Ron raised up slightly and tilted his head.
Everything clicked into place.
His mouth touched hers.
Thunder clapped in Hermione's head.
She sank into the pillow, rolling slowly onto her back
as Ron kissed her, feeling the wonder of being connected like this to another
person. To Ron. There was no other person. Ron, who infuriated
and provoked her, was the only person in the world allowed to do this. His kiss
sang into her. Daringly she parted her mouth just slightly beneath his, and
felt his breath come in. His fingers clenched convulsively in her hair and,
quite unexpectedly, Hermione felt the tip of his tongue touch her lower lip.
She made a soft, trusting sound, and slipped her arms
around his back.
As if he'd barely been able to wait for permission, Ron
opened her mouth with his own and let the weight of his chest rest on hers.
He didn't seem to know quite what to do, but it wasn't important. Hermione
didn't know either. The main thing was that they were doing it. He touched her
shoulder and neck with clumsy fingers as he kissed her. She held him close and
kissed him back with all the fumbling inexperience she possessed, revelling
in the pressure of being flattened beneath him and the sensation of his mouth
matching hers at every angle. He was sweet. She hadn't expected it. Treacle
fudge and mulled mead. She felt a giggle bubbling up in her chest. I'll never
turn down Hagrid's cooking again as long as I live. She laughed breathlessly
at the thought.
"What?" Ron mumbled at once, drawing back to
look at her, his brows coming together. "What's funny?"
Hermione realised that he thought she was laughing because
of him, and hastened to correct his thinking. "I just had a funny
thought," she confessed, "It wasn't - you know - it was just..."
She trailed off. Her lips were wet and she pressed them together uncertainly.
How it was possible to have had Ron's tongue in her mouth and yet still be embarrassed
in front of him, she didn't know. It seemed very unfair.
"What was the thought?" he demanded, as if
seeking proof that the giggling wasn't aimed at him.
"Well, it was just..." Hermione blushed. How
was she going to tell him she'd been thinking about the way he tasted?
But there was no way around an answer; Ron was hovering over her looking a bit
nervous, and she knew she had to say something fast.
"I was just thinking that, you know - " an
idea flashed mercifully into her brain "- when Hagrid gets back, if he
ever wears these shirts, I'm going to be distracted all through Care of Magical
Ron blinked at her. Clearly that wasn't the answer he'd
been expecting. He glanced down at her shirt, and Hermione withdrew her hands
from behind his back in a hurry, adjusting her collar quickly to be sure it
wasn't showing anything.
"You know what I just thought?" Ron
replied after a moment, looking very serious.
"No," Hermione answered timidly. "What?"
"I reckon the last time two people slept in this
bed, it collapsed under the weight." He snorted with laughter.
Hermione's eyes flew wide. "Ron!" she
admonished, as though she herself hadn't thought about Hagrid and Madame Maxime
just two hours earlier. She reached up to push her wild hair out of her eyes.
"How can you even think about that! They're... they're teachers!"
Ron grinned, then picked up his hand from her shoulder
and lifted another stray curl out of her face. He became sidetracked with it,
for a moment, looking at it gravely as he replaced it above her face with the
rest of her hair, frowning with concentration as if he was going to find the
perfect spot for it.
"Good luck," Hermione muttered.
Ron's attention shifted back to her face, and he studied
her, for a moment, with the same sort of concentration. Hermione lay still and
let herself be looked at, wondering why it was so acutely unsettling and so
terribly thrilling. This was really Ron, looking at her this way. She
looked back at him with the same intent, following the patterns of freckles
she knew so well, and reaching up hesitantly to touch the very red hair that
had fascinated her since she was ten. It was soft and a little bit spiky. Like
Hermione sighed happily and dropped her hand. Ron bent
his head. She shut her eyes and felt his kiss drive all the way into her toes.
It was a long time before they broke away to breathe
a little, and though it wrenched her awfully, Hermione knew her cue. "Ron
-" she panted "- I think we should - go to sleep now."
Ron groaned very faintly, and Hermione knew how he felt.
She didn't want to say it. She didn't want to stop. And she didn't stop
him when he kissed her mouth and her cheek in quick succession, as if to get
what he could, before it ended. But though painful disappointment twisted her
when Ron finally pulled away, she let him go, knowing that it was the right
thing. He rolled over onto his back and sighed, and she sighed with him. They
looked at each other for a long, quiet moment across the pillows; then Ron stretched
out his arm toward her and shut his eyes.
Hermione crawled into the circle of his arm without a
word and nestled her head on his shoulder, replacing her hand on his chest.
He covered her fingers with his own, and inhaled deeply.
"Goodnight," they said, at almost the same
Hermione closed her eyes and felt Ron breathe out. She
felt fully safe. Comforted. She wondered how she was going to go back to sleeping
in her own bed, after this. It was nicer than she'd ever imagined it could be,
to be curled up, warm and sleepy, next to Ron, and to feel his heart beneath
her hand. She exhaled quietly, feeling her mind edge away toward sleep.
"Ron...?" she asked vaguely, only half-aware
of what she was saying.
"Thank you... for being mean to Pansy..."
Ron didn't answer. Or, if he did, Hermione didn't know
it. She had fallen asleep.
First thing upon waking, Hermione's heart clenched. She
kept her eyes tightly shut. She remembered right away where she was, and who
was beside her, and though she was still warm and comfortable, she felt inexplicably
afraid. What if it had been a dream? Or what if it had been real, and now she
couldn't think of anything to say to him? Or what if Ron had changed his mind?
Her stomach balled into a fist at the very idea.
And then she heard a noise. It came from the other side
of the cabin, and sounded like -
"Ron?" Hermione opened her eyes. Ron's place
beside her was empty, and the noise continued. It was coming from the direction
of the loo - the unmistakable sound of someone being very ill.
"Ron, are you sick?" Hermione jumped out of
bed and bolted to the bathroom door. Ron was retching, behind it. "Do you
want water? I'm sure you're sick from the mulled mead, and I told you
it had to be bad, by now - are you all right?"
Ron coughed wetly. "Nice time for an I-told-you-so,"
he croaked. He sounded extremely miserable, and Hermione was instantly sorry.
"Oh... let me help you, just open the door."
"Come on, it's just vomit, Ron, honestly. I've seen
you hurl slugs, and it can't be worse than that."
There was no answer but the sound of violent throwing-up.
Hermione ran to her wand, and opened the door herself. "Alohomora!"
Ron was doubled over. He reached up with a grimace and
tried to pull the door shut, but Hermione stuck her foot in it. She Summoned
a towel from the kitchen and handed it to him. He took it, and mopped off his
face for a moment, before making a horrible noise, and bending over the toilet
He finished puking and moaned, keeping his hands on his
knees and letting his head hang.
"Is that it?" Hermione asked, putting a hand
on his back and smoothing it gently. "Are you done?"
Ron made a gurgling sound and spat into the bowl. He
then straightened up halfway, wiped his face and mouth with the towel, and nodded.
Hermione helped him back to the bed and got him a wet
cloth, and water. He cleaned up completely, then drank the water and made a
"I have to get the taste out of my mouth,"
"Just lie down."
Ron did so, while Hermione rifled through Hagrid's cabinets
and jars until she found what she was looking for. She returned to the bed with
a Peppermint Humbug, and Ron took it gratefully. "Thanks," he said,
and scooted toward the wall, leaving half of the bed open.
Hermione perched on the edge of the mattress, looking
from Ron to the windows. It was day - late morning, by the light - and the snow
had stopped. It was very deep, to be sure, but she couldn't help thinking that
they ought to be starting back to Hogwarts as soon as possible.
"Everyone's going to be worried," she said
anxiously, looking back at Ron. He lay unmoving on his back with one hand on
his stomach, calves and feet sticking out from below the hem of Hagrid's shirt,
looking up at her.
"I can't walk yet," he said, through a mouthful
of peppermint. "Let's just wait."
Hermione frowned, and picked at the edge of the free
pillow. " Well, do you need anything?" she asked hesitantly. "Or
do you feel better?"
Ron didn't answer. He just moved ever so slightly closer
to the wall, opening up more space next to him.
It was different in the daytime, Hermione reflected,
pushing hair behind her ear self-consciously. She knew it was silly - they'd
kissed and fallen asleep together, for heaven's sake - but she couldn't help
feeling nervous and awkward, looking at him now. He was the same Ron who had
kissed her, and touched her neck. Hermione felt her face growing hot and she
tugged unnecessarily at her shirt, making sure it was all in place. She wanted
to be next to Ron - that wasn't the problem. She just didn't know how to get
all the way over there.
Carefully, she began. "Well, I suppose it couldn't
hurt to wait a little..." She pulled her legs up and tucked her
feet under the quilt. "That is, until it gets warmer outside. We weren't
really dressed for that storm, you know."
"You're right," Ron said helpfully. "We
could really get sick." He began to work his way under the quilt, from
"And you're already sick," Hermione
pointed out, snuggling down all the way, and turning on her side.
"I am." Ron moved a bit closer to the middle.
"So we can stay for just a minute," Hermione
said breathlessly, shifting to the centre until she felt her leg brush Ron's.
"And get warm," Ron returned, his voice equally
unmanageable. He moved his leg, a little, against hers, then found her toes
Hermione hid her face in the top of his arm as tingles
shot up her leg. She responded with her own toes, sliding her foot first on
top of his, then underneath it. He gasped a little, and she breathed heavily
into his shirt. Mingled with the peppermint and the scent of his warm skin,
there was a slightly sour smell, from when he'd been sick. But she didn't care.
She still hoped he would kiss her. She wondered if that was weird. She crept
her arm across his chest and shifted her face from his shoulder to his neck.
He rolled toward her, but kept his mouth pressed shut, as if unsure that he
should even risk breathing on her, given the circumstances.
Knowing that it was entirely her decision, Hermione gathered
her courage. She raised up on her elbow, tilted her head toward his - and then
remembered something. Something Ron had said to her, last night. She pulled
back several inches and frowned at him studiously.
"What?" he demanded, barely opening his mouth
to get the word out.
"When have I ever whined about being a girl?"
she asked curiously.
"Huh?" Ron looked confused.
"You said last night that I whine about being a
girl, but that I'm lucky for it. When have I ever?"
"Oh, that." Ron grinned, forgetting to keep
his mouth shut. "You know - outside in the storm, when you were going on
and on . Something about how we don't ever listen, and blah blah, and
it's all because you're a girl, and blah blah blah -"
Hermione's mouth fell open. She didn't want to believe
it. "YOU." She pushed up from his shoulder and stared at him.
"You could hear me. That whole time - and you could hear me?"
Her mind raced, trying to piece together everything she'd said. It didn't matter.
She was going to kill him.
"I was down wind." Ron sniggered. "You
were hilarious, with the Four Point Spell. Can't believe how gullible -"
"You.... you...." Hermione was speechless.
"Had you going."
"Are a genius, Ron."
"You insufferable idiot, we were in a blizzard
and you were making it even harder on us!"
Ron blinked. "It was funny."
"Funny? When we were freezing? Didn't it ever occur
to you that we might easily have died out there, while you were making jokes?"
Hermione was propped up above him now, in a towering rage. She didn't even care
about the dying. It was the overhearing that bothered her. More and more of
what she'd said was coming back to her now, and she cringed, thanking her lucky
stars that at least she'd stopped before saying anything really stupid.
"Oh, come on, Hermione. We're not going to die in
a blizzard. We've got more important things to do." Ron shut his eyes.
"Er - your shirt."
Hermione glanced at the gaping hole between her shirt
and chest, gasped, dropped down at once, and found herself flattened against
Ron, whose eyes had flown open. Their faces weren't even an inch apart, and
she could feel his chest, rising and falling rapidly beneath her own. His breath
mostly smelled like peppermint, and was coming rather hard.
"Hermione," he managed. His eyes were on her
She couldn't move. She had to move. But instead, she
took a deep breath, and -
"Get back here, Mr. Potter. I told both of
you to stay with me - none of your running into the Forbidden Forest. If those
two are here, then we'll find them."
Ron grabbed her by the back of the head and muffled her
mouth in his chest. "Shut up!" he hissed. "That's McGonagall!"
"I know who it is - " Hermione
shot back, struggling free of his grip. "Stop smothering me!"
"What was that noise?" came an all-too-familiar
voice from outside. "I heard something in Hagrid's cabin."
"Oh no," Ron moaned. "Harry. We have to
get dressed!" His eyes were wild.
"No we don't! Just get off me and get on the floor!"
"Off you? You're the one on me!"
"Get on the floor, Ron!"
Ron rolled Hermione onto her back, climbed over her,
and threw himself onto the braided rug, still panting. Hermione hurled a pillow
at him and burrowed beneath the covers, trying not to breathe heavily.
"Pretend you're asleep!" she whispered. "Hurry!"
Harry was in the door. Hermione slammed shut her eyes
and held her breath, praying he wouldn't notice anything amiss. She waited,
tense in every muscle, for Harry to say something that would wake them up. When
he didn't move, or speak, she decided to take her chances.
Slowly, she opened her eyes and stretched, pretending
to notice Harry there for the first time. She pushed herself into a sitting
position. "Oh, Harry!" she said, letting her voice creak a little
as if she'd just woken up. She also blinked several times, unnecessarily, to
show that the light was too much for her. "You found us!"
Harry smirked, crossed his arms, and gave Hermione a
look that suggested she wasn't a very good actress. He looked from her attire,
to the crumpled bedclothes, to Ron, whose eyes were squeezed shut in an unnatural
manner. He laughed.
"You can both get up," he said. "And put
some clothes on. People are looking for you."
"Are they in there?" came a worried, girlish
voice. "Did you find them, Harry?"
There was a flash of sunlight on red hair, and Ginny
Weasley appeared over Harry's shoulder. She looked into the room, made a sound
of relief, and pushed under his arm at once.
"Where have you been?" she demanded
sharply, standing at the foot of the bed with her hands on her hips.
Ron sat up, at this. "Where do you think?"
he shot. "Got eyes, haven't you?"
"How did you get here? Why didn't you come back
to the castle?"
"Are they in Hagrid's cabin?" Professor McGonagall's
voice was very loud, and very close to the door.
"Don't let her in here!" Ron pleaded, grabbing
up his crumpled robes and dashing to the loo.
Hermione jumped out of bed and ran to the chair. "Get
out, Harry, I'm changing!" she gasped. "Ginny, guard the bathroom
so Ron doesn't come out!"
Within minutes, both Hermione and Ron were restored to
their school-robed selves, with no interference excepting one loud exclamation
from Professor McGonagall, outside - "What do you mean, they're
putting clothes on?"
It was with very red faces that they emerged from Hagrid's
hut and explained their misadventure to Professor McGonagall. She listened to
the story with an arched eyebrow and pursed lips, her arms folded tightly across
"Well," she said, when they were finished.
She looked as though she would have liked to say something else, but instead
she pinched her lips together so tightly that they went white, wheeled around
on her heel, and began to march through the very deep snow, back up toward Hogwarts
Ron gave Hermione a fleeting glance, then paired off
with Harry and followed the professor.
Hermione stayed well back, her eyes on the back of his
head, watching the sun on his hair. She was torn between wondering what Harry
thought of them, hoping that they weren't going to get any kind of second detention,
and trying to remember exactly what kissing Ron had felt like. She had just
shut her eyes for a second, to recall the sensation with more detail, when Ginny
fell into step with her, and tapped her arm.
"So," Ginny said, very quietly, "did anything...
Hermione's eyes widened in alarm, and her throat went
dry. She swallowed. "What do you mean?" she asked quickly. "No!
Of course it didn't."
"Oh." Ginny looked a little nervous and disappointed.
"I thought maybe he... but never mind."
"Maybe he what?"
But Ginny shook her head and pointed at Harry. "I
can't," she said. "He swore me to secrecy."
"Shhh!" Ginny blushed. "He'll hear you."
Hermione peered at her friend, wondering what it could
mean. And then she remembered what had been the secret between Harry and Ron.
"Ohhh..." she breathed. "You mean, did he ask me to the Ball?"
Ginny looked relieved. "Yes," she whispered,
then stopped in her tracks and grabbed Hermione's arm, smiling broadly. "Then
he did!" she whispered excitedly. "Oh, I knew he would,
I just knew it, after Harry told me Ron's been planning on it ever since it
"Oh," said Hermione, faintly. Ever since
it was announced... She smiled shyly at the back of Ron's neck. "But
Ginny - " she continued, beginning to walk again, and tugging Ginny's sleeve
to make her follow "- what got you and Harry into a conversation about
that in the first place?"
Ginny grinned. "Well, after Harry asked me
to the Ball, it sort of got to be a topic."
It was Hermione's turn to stop dead. "What?"
she whispered fiercely. "Did you... did you tell him that you've said yes
already to Colin?"
"Of course." Ginny shrugged. "Poor Harry.
That's two years in a row I was already taken."
Hermione was baffled by this response, and chose not
to reply. The two girls kept walking in silence, until Ginny cleared her throat.
"Erm... Hermione," she began, "did anything
"I don't know what you mean," said Hermione,
much too quickly.
"Oh, you know... did you... do anything?"
Hermione bit her lip and looked sideways at Ginny, who
was already looking at her a bit impishly. She felt her face getting warm again,
and looked swiftly toward Ron, who was glancing over his shoulder, at her. Their
eyes locked, briefly, and both of them barely shook their heads, coming to an
"No," said Hermione firmly, to Ginny.
"No," she heard Ron say quite loudly, to Harry.
"Oh," said Ginny, after a moment. "All
right." But she took Hermione's gloved hand in her mittened one and squeezed
it meaningfully. "That's what I reckoned."
Glad for the comfort of Ginny's hand, but wishing it
was Ron's, Hermione followed him all the way to Gryffindor Tower, straining
to hear what Harry was saying to him, and flushing with pleasure every time
his ears turned pink.
A/N II: Didn't want to give it away at the beginning,
but I just had to say that I feel very weird about using Gwen in anything that
isn't related directly to the books themselves. She was always meant to be a
Canon Commentary Only character. But she was SO BORED, waiting for book five,
and she's a bit of a diva, and oh, you should have heard her whining and complaining
to be let out. I had to give her a scene in here, just to shut her up.
Continued in Getting the Point