The Sugar Quill
Author: Arabella (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Dare  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Based on the works of JK Rowling

A/N: Many thanks to those of the H/H persuasion, whose arguments proved to be very useful dialogue in this very R/H tale.

We do not know if the game is called "Truth or Dare" in the UK, so please forgive us if we were wrong. We'll go back and change it when we know for sure.

~*~

Hermione wished she knew a Deafening Charm.

"Truth or dare?"

"Dare!"

"I dare you... to tell me how Seamus asked you to the ball!"

Lavender dissolved into giggles; Parvati joined her.

Hermione glared daggers through her bed curtains and made an audible noise of disgust. They'd been going on for the last hour, daring each other to tell truths that half the school already knew. Nothing with them was secret, or sacred, or even interesting, and Hermione tapped her quill loudly against her parchment in an effort to remind them that some people were trying to get their homework finished.

"Well, he waited until most everyone had left the common room last night..."

"Right..."

"And then he said it rather fast, you know, just asked me straight out. And he held my hand afterwards, for a minute."

Parvati squealed. Hermione groaned, making no effort to conceal the sound. She didn't think she could stand to listen if Lavender was going to start sharing physical details. Her groan was followed by a short silence, in which someone gave a disdainful sniff. They'd heard her. Good, she thought. Maybe they'll shut up.

There were muffled whispers; Hermione couldn't make them out, but she didn't really want to. Glad for the quiet, she turned the page of her Arithmancy textbook and pursed her lips at a difficult chart.

"Truth or dare," Lavender announced loudly.

"Dare," Parvati answered.

Hermione sighed. She should have known it was too good to last.

"I dare you to tell me which one you think is cuter," Lavender said. "Harry Potter? Or Ron Weasley?"

Hermione snatched the end of her bed curtain and yanked it aside to glare openly at the two of them. "Honestly!" she snapped.

Parvati smiled. "What is it, Hermione? Do you want to play?"

"Yes, Hermione, which one do you think is cuter?"

"No, I don't want to play," Hermione said scathingly, "And I don't know why you call it Truth or Dare when you never dare each other to do anything."

Parvati crossed her arms. "All right, then. You give us a dare."

"I dare you to stop asking stupid questions." As if to provide moral support, Crookshanks leapt onto Hermione's bed and crouched beside her lap. He hissed in Lavender's direction.

"Either deal with it, or play, or go back to your stupid book," Lavender said, pulling her legs up onto the bed and keeping her eyes on Crookshanks.

"It's our room too," Parvati declared, "and we'll dare each other whatever we want."

Hermione clenched her hand around her quill. "I guess you don't care if I'm trying to work!"

Parvati smirked. "Not on Friday, I don't."

"Look, Hermione," said Lavender suddenly, her eyes lighting up, "I'll tell you what. You

play one round -" she exchanged a look with Parvati "- and we'll be quiet after that."

Parvati tilted her head to one side, then nodded at Hermione. "All right?"

Hermione narrowed her eyes. They were always trying to get her to join in their games and conversations - she couldn't count the number of times last year that they'd begged her for information about Viktor. She honestly didn't know why they cared. She didn't want to know what they did. "One question, and you'll stop it for the rest of the night?" she asked warily.

They nodded.

Hermione heaved a sigh. "Fine," she said, placing her quill on her bedside table and folding her hands in her lap. "Ask."

"Truth or dare?" Parvati said. She looked delighted.

"Truth."

"Good. Then which one do you think is cuter? Harry or Ron?"

Hermione paled and looked down at her fingers. She couldn't answer that. Not to Parvati. Not honestly, anyway. "They're both - you know -" she blushed. "Cute."

Lavender rolled her eyes. "You have to pick one," she said patiently. "That's how it works."

"Oh." Hermione tucked up her legs and fiddled with the hem of her nightdress. She should never have agreed to play this dumb game. "What if I can't pick?"

"Then you have to run to the top of the common room stairs and shout 'I love Neville Longbottom!'" Parvati whispered. She and Lavender burst out laughing.

"I will NOT!"

"So answer the question."

"No!"

"Oh, come on, Hermione," Lavender coaxed. "It doesn't matter. We know who you really like."

Hermione's face was on fire. "What do you mean?"

"Well it's obvious! Who do you spend all your time helping with spells and charms?"

"What - Neville?" Hermione stared. They couldn't really think she liked him, just because of that.

"Oh, don't play innocent," Parvati snapped. "We saw you kiss him at King's Cross."

"What?!" Hermione gasped. "Who? I never kissed -"

"Harry! You kissed him on the cheek!"

Hermione's mouth fell open. Outraged, she clutched her bedcovers, making fists with both her hands. "Harry is my friend," she said hotly.

Lavender gave her a knowing look. "I didn't notice you kissing Ron Weasley. Isn't he your friend?"

"Ron is -" Hermione managed, feeling suddenly strangled. "That is, Ron hadn't just been through a horrible ordeal and - oh, never mind!" She untucked her legs and picked up Crookshanks, hugging him as if he could protect her. "I'm not playing this!"

"Then don't." Parvati raised an eyebrow at Lavender. "She's just snippy about Harry," she said, just loudly enough for Hermione to hear, "because I got to go to the ball with him last year."

Hermione opened her mouth to protest, then shut it in despair. There was no point.

"Not that she didn't have a date!" Lavender answered. "Going round all year with Viktor Krum. "

"Viktor and I are just friends," Hermione insisted. But she had said it so many times by now that the words had lost their meaning.

"You're just friends with an awful lot of people, aren't you?" Parvati answered slyly. "Viktor Krum... Harry..."

Hermione did not reply. She reached for her hangings and started to pull them shut. Parvati and Lavender could play whatever they wanted, as loudly as they liked. She wasn't answering any more questions.

"Oh, there she goes," Lavender said, looking exasperated. "I don't know why you won't just tell us. You know who we like. And everybody already knows you like Harry anyway, so you might as well admit it."

Hermione dropped her hand and stared. "Who else thinks that?"

"Everyone!"

"Ever since that article last year."

"You're joking." Hermione laughed, relieved. If it was just that stupid article, then there was nothing to worry about. "That was the first time I'd ever thought about Harry like that."

"Then you admit you've thought about him like that." Lavender grinned. "Got you."

"No - look. Of course I care about Harry. He's my friend. I love him."

Parvati and Lavender made high-pitched noises and went into a simultaneous fit of giggles.

Hermione looked at them, feeling a bit sad. They were so silly about love. "Forget it," she said. "I'm just saying, I could never think of Harry as a boyfriend. He's... just Harry."

"Just Harry?" Parvati repeated, disbelieving. "Hermione, this is Harry Potter we're talking about."

Hermione shrugged, and reached again for her curtain. To her he was, and would always be, just Harry.

"What are you going to do?" Lavender chimed in. "I suppose you'll ignore him and date Ron Weasley instead?"

Hermione flushed and ducked her head. They don't know, she told herself quickly. They're just being stupid.

"Oh, good one," Parvati laughed. "Hermione and Ron."

"What'd Padma say about him again?"

"That he was a terrible date. He wouldn't even talk to her. Not that she cared - did you see his robes?"

Hermione stiffened. "That's not his -" she began, and then stopped. She wasn't going to talk about the Weasleys' finances with anyone. It was none of their business.

"At least Harry danced, even if it was only the once," Parvati continued, tossing her hair back. "And even if I had to lead. Ron didn’t dance at all."

"And isn’t he afraid of spiders?" Lavender asked. "I’ve never known a boy to be scared of spiders. He almost fell out of his chair in Defense class last year, remember? When Moody engorged those big ones?"

Parvati laughed. "Not the bravest Gryffindor in the lot, is he?"

Something hot and angry snapped in Hermione’s mind. "A fat lot you know," she said recklessly. "He faced down an Acromantula!"

Parvati and Lavender gaped at her. "A… what?" Parvati asked faintly.

Realizing her mistake, Hermione clamped her mouth shut. No one knew what had happened in the Forbidden Forest, and she wasn’t about to tell any more than she already had.

"You mean in Professor Lupin’s class?" Lavender asked, a bit timidly.

"Oh. Are you talking about the boggarts?" Parvati gave Hermione a withering look. "That doesn’t count. He’d never face a real one - he can’t even pick up the baby ones, for Potions."

"Harry’s awfully brave though, isn’t he?" Lavender sighed, shooting Hermione a meaningful smile. "In Quidditch and everything? And then he actually saw You-Know-Who, and made it through alive. I bet he told you everything." She sighed again, and Hermione felt sick to her stomach. They talked about Harry's life as if it were just a story.

Parvati nodded, and gave a sigh that was very like Lavender's. "And he’s really smart," she added.

Hermione snorted. They were getting out of control. "Yeah, maybe if he ever did his homework," she muttered, glancing at the Arithmancy book, which was still open beside her. She had to get back to work.

"Not Ron, though," Lavender pointed out, frowning. "He’s always making the most idiotic comments in class – he’s so immature!"

Hermione glanced up to give Lavender a dirty look. It was one thing if she wanted to call Ron immature. No one else was allowed.

"Remember what he said to you last year in Divination?" Parvati asked. "About the planets?"

Lavender put her nose in the air. "So immature," she repeated.

"What?" Hermione said, curious. "What did he say?"

Parvati gave her an arch look. "Oh, you want to play now, do you?"

But Lavender was all too eager to tell. "He said - well, first, you should know that I discovered an unaspected planet in my chart, and Professor Trelawney said it was Uranus. And then stupid Ron said to me, ‘Can I have a look at Uranus?’ Or something like that."

Hermione snickered.

Parvati and Lavender looked scandalized. "Well if that's the sort of thing you find funny," Lavender said indignantly, "maybe you should date Ron Weasley!"

Torn between throwing her book at Lavender and burying her face in the pillows, Hermione said nothing.

"Oh, please. All they ever do is fight." Parvati picked up a strand of Lavender’s hair and began to plait it. "They’d break up in a week."

Hermione was taken aback. "We don’t always fight," she said, and when Parvati and Lavender turned disbelieving looks on her, she felt quite flustered. "Well we don’t," she insisted. "We debate. We discuss."

Parvati raised an eyebrow, and when she spoke, it was in a quick, highly pitched voice that Hermione recognized as a mockery of her own. "Ro-on, you should do your homework."

Lavender giggled and replied in a voice much lower than her usual one, affecting Ron’s southern accent. "Oh shut up, Hermione, let’s play chess."

"No, I have a paper due in six months and I have to work on it right now!"

"You’re such a know it all."

"Am not! You should do your paper, too!"

"Don’t nag!" Lavender broke out of character and started laughing so hard that Parvati had to let go of her hair. The two of them doubled over, flushed with effort and amusement.

Hermione looked at them, shocked. She and Ron didn’t sound like… although, sometimes, they did have conversations that were awfully… But Parvati and Lavender had never been so observant. "We don’t mean anything by that," she said weakly. "That’s not a real fight."

"No – no –" Parvati interrupted breathlessly, hitting Lavender on the arm and struggling to sit up again. "The best one was after the ball last year, you know – Viktor Krum is a bloody stupid prat!" she managed, through her laughter.

Lavender howled. "Oh yeah – and if you don’t like it, then you should ask me to the ball first next time instead of waiting around until the last minute!"

Hermione gasped and knelt up, leaning so far forward that she nearly fell off her bed. "You didn’t hear that! How did you hear that?"

"You were both screaming," Parvati pointed out.

Hermione squeezed her eyes shut against the embarrassment. If they had heard, then all of Gryffindor had heard. She tried not to think about it, but it was so overwhelmingly bad – everyone knew. Everyone had heard her tell Ron to ask her. She wondered if she could put in for a transfer to Beauxbatons.

"I have to say, Hermione," Parvati continued, sounding impressed, "that was a pretty good return. I don’t think he knew what hit him."

"I know," Lavender agreed. "Sometimes with boys, you have to really insult them before they get it."

Hermione opened her eyes. "Huh?"

"Well, he’s liked you a long time," Lavender said sympathetically. "So, you know."

"He – has?"

"So it’s good you put him in his place like that."

"His place."

"Although," Parvati cut in, giggling, "if he misunderstood, he might really ask you to the ball first this year."

Lavender’s mouth opened in an ‘o’. "He might!" she said.

Hermione was so lost, she hardly knew where to begin. "How would he… misunderstand?" she asked slowly, thinking that it was Parvati and Lavender who had misunderstood. She had meant for Ron to ask her first. That’s what she had said – screamed – wasn’t it?

"Well, he’s not very bright, is he?" Parvati said, going back to the work of plaiting Lavender’s hair. "He might think you really want him to ask you, when you were obviously telling him he'd missed his chance."

Hermione looked from Parvati to Lavender and realized they were not joking. Surely Ron had known it was an invitation, not an insult. But if it had sounded that way to Lavender and Parvati… She thought of Ron’s face, after she’d said it – the way his mouth had gaped, the way he’d goggled at her. He had looked insulted... Hermione lifted her fingertips to her temples and massaged there, trying to erase the new worry that had crept into her mind. Perhaps he’d misunderstood. Perhaps she hadn’t been clear.


Perhaps that was why he still hadn’t asked her.

"It’s all right, Hermione," said Lavender, after a short silence. "I’m sure he didn’t misunderstand."

"He won’t ask," Parvati said, sounding quite sure. "Don’t worry, you made yourself very clear. We were only teasing. I’m sure Harry will ask you, really. You two are always together and I never see him much around any other girl –"

"I think it’s my turn," Hermione said abruptly, taking her fingers down from her head. "I get to ask a question, and then the game is over and I can go back to my homework."

"No," Lavender said. "You never answered the first question."

"I said I think they’re both nice looking." Hermione's voice was flat.

"That’s not a fair answer!"

"Oh never mind that," Parvati said quickly. "I’ve got a dare for her – a real dare, since that’s what she says she likes."

"Ooooh," said Lavender. "Good."

Hermione met Parvati’s gaze, but she was hardly thinking about the dare. She wanted to talk to Ron – to find out whether he knew what she had meant last year, during that horrible fight. Not that there was any way to broach the subject; it wasn’t the kind of question a person could ask.

"Hermione Granger," said Parvati, squaring her shoulders dramatically, "I dare you to go up to the boys’ dormitory and knock on Harry’s door."

Ron’s door, Hermione thought immediately. She stood up and reached for her dressing gown, her mind going in circles. Ask me before someone else does, and not as a last resort. She remembered what she’d said, word for word. She’d gone over and over it in her mind, in a fit of humiliation, before crying herself to sleep on the night of the Yule Ball. She couldn’t find the hole in those words, couldn’t figure out how they could possibly mean anything else. But if Parvati and Lavender had entirely misread her meaning, then perhaps…

"You’re not really going."

Lavender’s voice cut into her thoughts. Hermione looked up absently and finished tying her dressing gown shut. "Sure I am."

"But you’re a prefect!"

"So no one will question me." Hermione left the room and went downstairs. She could hear Parvati and Lavender following close behind her, but their footsteps stopped short at the foot of the boys’ staircase, and Hermione did not look back. She didn’t really care what they thought. Ron must have understood what she meant – he knew her so much better than anyone else. Even if they’d heard her wrongly, he wouldn’t have. But then, what if he had? And what if that was why he’d been so distant with her, ever since the ball was announced? And what if that was stopping him from asking her to go with him?

She rapped on the fifth years’ door and waited, still lost in thought. When the door opened, Hermione found herself looking up at Ron, who stared down at her, his mouth slightly open. She blushed, and suddenly wondered how she was going to explain herself.

"Hermione," Ron said, surprise evident in his tone. "Hi," he added, after a long pause. He sounded odd. He was wearing pajamas and his hair was rumpled.

"Hi," Hermione replied. She searched herself for something else to say, but nothing came. He was still looking at her.

"Hermione?" Harry’s voice came from behind Ron; Hermione couldn’t see him, but he sounded alert and worried. "What is it? What’s wrong?"

"Oh, nothing," she answered quickly, wondering why her voice sounded so high. "Erm… Ron? Can I talk to you for a second?"

There was a low "oooh" sound from behind Ron, followed by a lot of sniggering. Seamus and Dean were as bad as Lavender and Parvati, Hermione realized, and she silently thanked Ron for pulling the door shut behind him as he moved into the hall.

"Leave it open!" Dean called out. "We want to hear!"

Ron made a rude gesture behind his back that Hermione chose not to notice, and slammed the door shut. His ears were red, and red patches rose in his cheeks. Hermione looked down at his feet, which were bare and pale and freckled. They were really sort of cute.


"So…" he said slowly. "What’s up?"

Hermione swallowed. "Nothing. I was just wondering if… you know that fight we had last year?"

"Which one?" He paused. "Wait, is this about spew?"

Hermione looked up. "No!" she said, annoyed. "We didn’t really fight about the elves, did we? We don’t fight that much, do we? Do you think we fight a lot?"

Ron scratched his head. "Uh… no?"

"We just had the one fight last year, remember? After the Yule Ball."

Ron went purple and Hermione looked back down at the floor. Neither had ever brought up the fight. They had been politely ignoring it for a year, and she felt she was breaking an unspoken vow between them to mention it now - but she had to know.


"Oh," Ron said. His voice sounded very far away. "Right." He curled his big toes, one at a time, into the worn red carpet.

Hermione dug deep for her courage. "Well, when I said… what I said," she started, feeling very stupid, "perhaps I wasn’t clear. I mean, I thought I was, but – today I realized – that is, I wasn’t thinking about it, but then – anyway, truthfully, I didn’t really mean to say anything that night, so it’s quite possible that you misunderstood what I did say." She was talking so rapidly that she hardly understood the words herself.

"No, I – I think I got it," Ron mumbled. He cleared his throat. "So, about the ball… do you want -"

But Hermione had worked herself into such a state that she was past hearing. "Look, Ron," she blurted, "just go to the ball with me, all right?"

Silence rang in the corridor. Hermione heard her own breathing; she thought she could even hear her heart, beating behind her eardrums. The quiet seemed to last forever.

"Ron?" she prompted, and when Ron gave no answer Hermione wished she could turn and run for it. She steadied herself with a deep breath. "Never mind," she said rapidly, "if you’ve already made plans with someone else, then that’s –"

"Yeah – okay. I’ll go," Ron said.

"Oh!" Hermione dared a glance up at him. He was staring at her, but as soon as she caught his eyes, they darted away from her face. "Well." She groped for words. " Okay."

Ron opened his mouth, then shut it.

Hermione was also at a loss. "Goodnight, then," she finally said. And before things could get any more uncomfortable, she turned around and walked away from him without looking back. She heard him open the dormitory door and cringed at the sound of loud, fake kissing noises.

"I love you, Hermione!" said someone who sounded suspiciously like Seamus, in falsetto. All the boys snickered. Ron told them all to do something so rude that it made Hermione's eyes widen. Harry laughed out loud.

"Shut up, Harry," Ron hissed. The boys’ door slammed.

"Shut up, Harry," Hermione echoed, under her breath. She felt her forehead with the back of her hand. It was hot. She walked downstairs into the common room, and then up to her own dormitory, her heart beating an irregular rhythm. She had knocked on his door in the middle of the night in her pajamas, and asked him to the Yule Ball.

And he’d said yes.

"That was so cute!" Lavender squealed happily, the second Hermione walked into their room. Hermione gave her a blank look.

"We heard you from downstairs," Parvati explained, grinning. "You asked Ron!"

"You weren’t joking about Harry!"

"Ron really is the better looking one, I think."

"Well anyway, he’s much taller."

"And did you see his big brother at the tournament last year?" Parvati made a noise of appreciation. "If he turns out like that…"

Hermione climbed into her bed and gathered up Crookshanks, who, for once, did not protest. Neither did Hermione, as Parvati and Lavender continued to gush girlishly. It didn’t bother her so much right now, somehow. Besides, she didn’t have to answer if she didn't want to.

"Oh, Hermione, what will you wear? Those robes you wore last year were beautiful."

"No… I outgrew those."

"I suppose Ron will wear his old ones, though," Parvati said quietly. "After all, he’s –"

"Shh," said Lavender. "Don’t."

"No… he has new ones," Hermione murmured, burrowing under her covers, still holding tight to her cat. She lay down and shut her eyes, feeling lightheaded. Parvati and Lavender kept talking, but she didn't catch much of what they said. She'd be going to the Yule Ball with Ron. He'd be walking her into the Great Hall. He'd dance with her... probably. She frowned. He might not want to dance. Perhaps he didn't even want to go. She realized how silent he had been, when she'd asked him - perhaps he had been trying to think of a nice way to turn her down. She'd put him on the spot. Why had she done that?

"...of course. It was obvious he'd say yes," Parvati was saying wisely.

"Oh, I knew he'd go with her right when she asked."

Hermione's stomach hurt. "We're just going as friends," she attempted, hoping to convince herself that she didn't mind. But Lavender and Parvati both laughed.

"Oh, right," Parvati said. "I bet he doesn't know that."

"I told you before," Lavender said, "he likes you."

Hermione opened her eyes. "What makes you say that?" she asked, feeling herself blush. She had never stumbled into a conversation like this before, but she wanted to believe Lavender so badly that curiosity got the better of her.

"Well, he's always looking at you, for one thing."

Hermione blushed harder. "He'd have to look at me once in awhile if we're friends."

"Friends don't look at each other like this," said Parvati, and she gave Lavender an exaggerated, pining look.

Hermione giggled quietly. "He does not," she said, hoping that he did.

"And he was wickedly jealous of Viktor Krum," Lavender observed.

"He took you to the World Cup, didn't he?"

"Didn't you spend half the summer holiday at his house? He invited you?"

"I bet he kisses you at Christmas."

Hermione gasped and sat bolt upright; Crookshanks was so startled that he leapt away, hissing. If Ron kissed her... She had a sudden memory of standing close to him in the upstairs corridor, outside his room. He was so tall, and he had his own sort of... smell. His own warmth. He was like... a big heater, just standing there in his pajamas. He was very much her friend, but he was really a boy, too. She already knew what it was like to be close up against him, hugging him. The idea that he might lean down - Ron - and touch his mouth to hers... It was nearly unbearable. "He wouldn't!" Hermione whispered.

Lavender smiled. "Don't you want him to?" she asked dreamily. "It's the loveliest thing in the world."

Parvati's mouth fell open and she turned to face Lavender. "What? How do you know?"

Lavender gave a shrill giggle and clapped a hand over her mouth. "Because last night," she said through her fingers, "more happened than just holding hands. I was going to wait and tell you later -"

"Tell me NOW," Parvati commanded.

Hermione rolled over and let them talk, making no effort to tune them out. This time, their voices faded into the background of her overwhelming thoughts, which consisted mostly of Ron... and what it felt like to be near him... and what it would be like when he had to put his hands on her and dance with her... and how very possible it was that at the end of it all, he would give her another fleeting look like the one she'd caught him giving her in the boys' hallway... and then perhaps he'd take just one step closer...

Hermione drifted off to sleep trying to imagine the exact sensation of being kissed. Somewhere just before dreams set in, she felt a small weight lift from her mattress, followed by the soft thud of a book shutting and the sound of two people gently shutting her curtains, from either side.

~*~

//
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