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

Let us assume, for the purposes of this next bit, that it is around Halloween at Hogwarts. And let us also assume that Hermione, in an effort to help Harry discover the truth about why Ginny’s singing clears the pain out of his scar, has lent him her enchanted music box. (The music box is something I made up as a gift that Hermione received from her parents. It plays whatever music one tells it to play. It will, for example, play the Weird Sisters, or Tchaikovsky, or even sing in the voice of Professor McGonagall, if for some strange reason Harry should desire to hear this. Don’t worry, he won’t.)

Hermione has suggested that he keep the music box near his bed, in case of another nightmare. The next time his scar hurts him, he plans to tell the music box to play all kinds of different voices, to see if any music other than Ginny’s voice has a similarly healing effect on his scar. Ron has been apprised of this plan and thinks it is a good one – anything that makes Harry’s scar have less to do with Ginny is fine by him. Ginny herself has no idea that she’s had any effect on Harry’s scar

None of this is really discussed in Chapter Two, but you should know about it now anyway. Also (though this is not really integral to the story) I like to imagine that Harry has asked the music box to play in his mother’s voice, and that this has afforded him some personal comfort. That said, let’s move on to the next part that I actually bothered to write down in story form. J

***

Things are better up here, Harry thought, feeling the wind whip his hair back from his face. He was in the air on his broomstick, having a rousing Quidditch practice with his fellow Gryffindors. He dove suddenly, streaking toward a spot on the ground as if he had just seen the Snitch. Above him, he heard Ron’s whoop from the goal posts.

"Getting good at that Wronski Feint, Harry!" Harry pulled out of the dive and grinned heartily at his best friend. Nothing could have made him happier than to be practicing for the House Cup alongside Ron. They’d been in the air for some time now and the sky was growing dusky as light snapped into the many windows of Hogwarts Castle, beyond the Quidditch field. In the midst of his enjoyment, Harry could almost forget, for a moment, that Voldemort had risen again.

But not quite. As they called off practice and Harry flew downward for a landing, he caught sight of the Whomping Willow. It reminded him of the first time he’d met Sirius... which put him in mind of where Sirius was right now... out gathering forces to fight the monster who had murdered his best friends, and Harry’s own parents. Harry felt the all-too-familiar sickness in his stomach at the thought of these events, the nausea stopped him from concentrating on his flying, and his landing was therefore an uncharacteristically rocky one – he tripped over his feet, stumbled and sliced open his shin on a sharp bit of rock. "Ow," he muttered, picking himself up and examining the bloody rip in his pant-leg. The cut was fairly deep, but less painful than it looked.

"You okay, Harry?" called Ron, catching up to him and looking surprised. It wasn’t like Harry to fumble on a broomstick.

"Fine," said Harry flatly. "Just preoccupied." Ron glanced warily at down at his bleeding leg, but nodded and let him alone. There wasn’t much to say. Everyone who really knew what was happening in their world had good reason to be preoccupied.

The two boys gathered their things and walked in silence up the lawn and into the entrance hall. They were met by the heavenly smell of dinner, wafting up from the doors of the Great Hall. Ron popped his head in to surmise the supper. "Roast beef," he said hungrily. "I’m starving. Think I’ll just go in – Hermione’s already in there – you coming?" But Harry shook his head and gestured to his leg. "I’ll go and clean this first," he said. "Be right back."

Ron nodded and made his way in among the tables toward Hermione. Harry watched the two of them for a moment as Ron seated himself at the Gryffindor table and said something Harry couldn’t hear. Whatever it was, it obviously annoyed Hermione greatly – she gave Ron a withering look and pretended to ignore him until he leaned in and said something else that sent her into a fit of involuntary giggles. Harry shook his head, smiling a little, though in truth he felt slightly left out. He’d been the odd man out more than once lately, in Ron and Hermione’s company.

Feeling pensive, he turned away and climbed the stairs to Gryffindor. His whole body, which had just felt so exhilarated out on the field, was suddenly tired. He didn’t want to wash up his leg so much as he wanted a moment of quiet, away from everyone. There was too much in his head that he couldn’t put into words lately – it made him feel more alone than usual, even around his closest friends.

"Bubotuber," he said dully to the Fat Lady, who swung open to admit him, clucking her disapproval. "Horrible password, that," she mused. "I’ll change it tomorrow." Harry gave a shrug and climbed through the portrait hole into a blessedly quiet common room, which was almost entirely uninhabited. In fact, there was only one other person in the room.

"Hi, Ginny," said Harry absently, tossing his bag at the foot of a chair and making for the stairs, quite caught up in thoughts of Sirius and Voldemort, Ron and Hermione all at once.

"Oh, hi," Ginny answered dispiritedly, slamming The Standard Book of Spells; Grade Four on the table beside her. "What’s up," she asked, her voice listless.

Harry stopped on the first step and turned, taken aback by her tone. He noticed that her face was tense and inattentive and her red hair, which was gathered into a knot by way of a pencil stuck through it, was sticking around a bit wildly. "What’s the matter with you?" he asked in surprise.

Ginny shook her head and flopped back in her chair with her eyes shut. "I’m in a horrid mood," she told him, "for no reason. Well, yes, there’s a reason – Transfiguration – this is hard."

Harry was doubly surprised. To his recollection, this was the first time Ginny had not seemed at all tongue-tied around him and he stepped back into the room entirely as he said, "Well, what are you working on in there?"

"Guinea fowl," Ginny muttered, opening her eyes to glare at her spell book murderously. "Why do I need to turn that stupid thing into a guinea pig? Who’d ever want to do that anyway?"

Harry laughed. He’d often wondered the same sorts of things about their assignments. "I don’t know," he confessed, watching curiously as Ginny now began to dig through her bag in an exasperated manner.

"I mean, when in my whole life," she continued irritably, pulling out a quill with one hand, "am I going to have the sudden urge to change a guinea fowl into anything?" She slapped a roll of parchment on the table impatiently and looked at Harry for an answer. He could only grin at her frustration.

"Well, you never know, do you?" he returned easily, making her laugh in spite of herself. And then, not knowing quite what he was saying, he offered, "Want help, or anything?"

In the midst of a laugh, Ginny caught her breath and looked at Harry as though she had only just recognized him. She turned slightly pink, but seemed determined not to let it affect her. "Erm..." she managed, looking at his eyes for a split second, and then quickly down at her spellbook, "That’s... that’s okay. I was just going to write a letter to Bill instead, but.... Actually I still need to go to dinner."

"Me too," Harry said, still not sure of what he was saying. "Want to wait for me? I’ve just got to wash this up." He motioned to the cut on his leg, which had momentarily begun to throb.

Ginny met his eyes again, still blushing slightly. "Yes, I’ll wait..." she began, but stopped suddenly, her eyes flitting to his sliced shin. She stretched her fingers out instinctively. "You’re bleeding!" she exclaimed. "What happened?"

Harry flinched at her tone of concern and took a step backwards up the stairs. He wasn’t sure why, but the look on her face unnerved him. "Nothing," he said in an automatic voice, "I tripped – I’m fine."

Ginny didn’t seem convinced. Her eyes lingered on the now-congealing cut. "Shouldn’t you..." she began hesitantly, "...shouldn’t you just go to the hospital wing? Madam Pomfrey could fix it in two seconds."

Harry shook his head firmly. He wouldn’t admit it to Ginny, or to anyone, but he was in no hurry to go back to the hospital wing. The last time he’d been in there had been the absolute most painful of his life. Just thinking about the infirmary brought back an instant memory of the Diggorys. His heart clenched as he recalled how he had been made to explain their son’s death to them... and there were so many other horrible memories of the Triwizard Championship... No, he never wanted to see the inside of the hospital wing again if he could help it.

Although he had explained none of this aloud, Ginny gave him a look that suggested comprehension. "I don’t like to go up there either," she said frankly, after a moment. "It’s depressing."

Harry jumped. "What?" he exclaimed, unprepared for her truthful estimation of his motives.

"Well," she said slowly, shrugging, "whenever I go up there for anything, all I can think of is the end of first year..." She blushed, looking at her hands, "Tom Riddle and all that," she explained in a quick, embarrassed tone. "And I know that’s nothing to what you must feel– I mean especially after Cedric and everything that happened to you last year – it must be hard to face..." Ginny trailed off, and pressed her lips together. "Sorry," she finished softly, after a short silence. "You can’t want to talk about all that."

Harry was staring at her, openmouthed. The truth was, he desperately wanted to talk about "all that" but everyone else – Ron and Hermione included – seemed uncomfortable on the subject. Neither of them ever brought up Cedric if it could be helped, and although Harry knew it was only because they didn’t want to hurt him, often he felt that the careful silence was equally as painful. Then again, he reasoned, even if his best friends had been perfectly open on the subject, he had to admit that he wasn’t always very keen to pour his heart out to them. Ron often became confused and doubtful; Hermione, panicked with worry. Though they cared about him very much, sometimes Harry found that it was less trouble just to keep things quiet.

But Ginny didn’t appear to be confused, or panicked. She was looking at him quietly, waiting for him to answer, and Harry felt suddenly as though the great weights that pressed on his heart were aching for release. He realized how much he wanted to be perfectly straightforward with someone – certainly he had Sirius, but Harry didn’t want to write a letter. He wanted a friend in the here and now, someone to trust who wouldn’t be frightened or shocked by everything he had to share. Into his chest rushed an overwhelming desire to tell Ginny that she was very right, that it was difficult to face what had happened last year, that Cedric was often on his mind, and that he didn’t know how to deal with the reality of a returned Voldemort. Harry drew a deep breath and spoke.

"Look, I’m fine," he said loudly, shattering the quiet of the common room and startling them both. He hadn’t meant to say that at all, and he could tell by the look on Ginny’s face that she didn’t believe him in the slightest. But, "I’m fine," he repeated in a more normal tone of voice, working to convince her. "Really, it’s just a scratch –" he indicated his leg – "I don’t need to see Madam Pomfrey about it. I’m fine," he concluded for the third time.

Ginny sighed almost inaudibly and unrolled her parchment, returning, it seemed, to letter-writing. "Yes, okay, you’re fine," she said under her breath, "you’re always fine. You’re Harry Potter." She said the last two words in a tone that struck his nerves with a clang – he felt suddenly and inexplicably defensive.

"What’s that supposed to mean?" he shot at her.

"It doesn’t mean anything," she said, attempting to dismiss him as she unscrewed the top of her ink bottle. But Harry wasn’t interested in being dismissed.

"Then why’d you say it?" he demanded hotly.

Ginny loaded her quill with ink and set her hand on the parchment, but did not begin to write. "It’s only...." she faltered, looking up at him. For a moment she appeared to be suffering a painful internal struggle, but then she lay her quill down abruptly and braced her arms on the chair. "It’s just you’re very hard to talk to, because you’re scared someone’s going to see you lose it," she said in a rush, "even though you deserve to break down, Harry, you really do!" She crossed her arms defiantly, as if daring him to contradict her. Through his shock, Harry could tell that she’d wanted to say that for quite some time.

But the fact remained that it stung him very badly to hear those things – Harry felt as if Ginny had just opened a very private, sealed door, one which most people tiptoed carefully around. And though he struggled not to admit the truth to himself, he knew she was right. He was Harry Potter. And whatever else that meant, it certainly made it difficult to break down and hash things out like everybody else. So what made her think he was about to do it now?

"You don’t know what you’re talking about," he said, much more coldly than he’d intended. Ginny recoiled, her eyes registering hurt, and Harry, feeling immediately contrite, back-pedaled as well as he could. "Seriously," he said, trying to sound friendlier, "I’m fine." But he regretted those words, too, as soon as they were out, because Ginny seemed to expect them. She laughed slightly, put her letter aside, and stood up.

"Well, good. As long as you’re fine," she said evenly, pulling the pencil out of her knotted hair and letting it fall back around her face. She tossed the pencil onto her things with a clatter. "I’m going to dinner now, before it’s over," she announced. And as Harry watched, she went to the portrait hole, pushed it open, and let it fall shut behind her. It was a long moment before he was able to gather his wits and continue up the stairs.

You’re Harry Potter. The words came back into his head and he tried to shake them out as he stalked past the boys’ dormitory and into the lavatory, where he went about washing his leg in the sink. You’re scared someone’s going to see you lose it. No, he thought, that wasn’t true at all. It’s just that there was no sense in making a sap out of himself. He scrubbed at his cut roughly, though it hurt him, trying to distract himself from his thoughts. But it was very difficult to escape the dim, guilty feeling that he had lied to Ginny – made worse by the fact that she had been remarkably honest with him. He blotted the slice on his leg with a pounding motion, threw the tissue furiously into the bin, and caught sight of himself in the mirror.

Arrested, he stared at the lightning bolt on his forehead. It had been several weeks since he’d thought about the way in which Ginny’s voice had affected him at the Burrow. In fact, ever since Hermione had given him the enchanted music box he’d avoided the subject entirely, both with his friends and with himself. Now, however, Harry found himself once again trying to work out the possible connection... his scar... Voldemort.... Ginny... It was difficult to draw conclusions about any of it.

Instead, his mind began to draw a few conclusions about Ginny herself. Vaguely it occurred to him that though he’d known her for nearing four years, he had only just met her for the first time. He had certainly never had anything approaching a serious conversation with her. She was somehow more opinionated than he had expected – and she had made more than one startlingly perceptive observation about him – it led him to wonder just how closely she’d been paying attention all this time.

Harry smiled at himself sheepishly in the mirror. He was rather used to the idea that Ginny was a bit... taken with him. There was something very flattering about the way she’d always looked at him, even if he didn’t return the feelings. Which, he reminded himself, he didn’t. Not at all. He liked her all right – he liked all the Weasleys. It didn’t mean anything more with Ginny – not even if, for reasons he couldn’t explain to himself, he had been about to confide in her about everything in a way it had never occurred to him to do with Fred and George – or even Ron.

It was several minutes before Harry snapped out of these thoughts and realized that his delays meant he would now have missed dinner – unless he ran for it. Drying his hands quickly, he raced down to the common room, which was filling up with students returning from the Great Hall. He flung open the portrait hole and came face to face with Hermione, who clambered inside. She was followed closely by Ron, and was carrying a sandwich in a napkin. "Dinner’s almost over," she explained, holding it out to him. "I didn’t know if you’d make it, so I put this together."

"Thanks," Harry said, accepting it gratefully. And then, without thinking, he added, "Did you see Ginny?" He could have hit himself for asking. Ron looked at him sharply.

"Yeah, we passed her, why?" he asked, his tone suspicious.

Harry berated himself inwardly as he fumbled for an explanation. "No reason – she just had a question – about Transfiguration. Guinea fowl, or something."

But Ron was not put off track by this feeble attempt. "What took you so long up here, anyway?" he interrogated, watching Harry closely.

"Er," Harry said, making a very great effort not to show strain, "nothing really – you know, just got held up – had to wash out my leg –" He stopped talking and slapped himself mentally a second time, because that had been another stupid thing to say. Hermione now looked at the cut on his leg and sucked in her breath.

"Hospital wing," she said reflexively. But Harry refused, point-blank, to comply with this, explaining that it looked a lot worse than it was and it didn’t really hurt at all. Eventually he stopped acknowledging her arguments altogether and Hermione had to give up. She sighed, still tutting in the direction of his shin, but let it go for the moment. "Ginny’s having trouble with Transfiguration then?" she asked, changing the subject as she hefted her own schoolbooks to the table and sat down. "Cross-Species Switches?"

"I guess," replied Harry noncommittally, thumping into a chair and tearing into his sandwich without meeting Ron’s eyes. But Hermione seemed to be oblivious to the tension between Harry and Ron. She picked up Ginny’s spellbook and thumbed through it methodically.

"I’ll help her when she gets back then," she decided. "I did rather well in that section. I loved that part of the exam – it was fun, learning to switch them over, didn’t you think?"

Ron now looked despairingly at Hermione – if he still had misgivings about what had taken Harry so long upstairs, he lost sight of them in the wake of her comment. "Hermione," he said patronizingly, as if she were a very small child, "you’re mental. You can’t love any part of an exam. It’s against nature."

"Oh, hush," she returned, pouting into her bag. "Do you have an extra quill, please? I think I lent my last one to Neville." Ron rolled his eyes in Harry’s direction, but quickly dug a quill out of his own bag and presented it to Hermione. She smiled up at him as he settled in the next chair over, and Harry couldn’t help but grin into his sandwich, thinking that Ron had become rather obedient lately. However, he was too grateful for the distraction to make any comments. To his great relief, it seemed that neither of his friends had really noticed his unease regarding Ginny, and he almost forgot it himself as he pulled up his school bag and began to work on their latest assignment for History of Magic.

Harry could not explain why his head snapped to the portrait hole as if it were on a string when Ginny climbed through it half an hour later. To his great annoyance he felt his face grow rather flushed as he turned quickly back to his essay – and if he thought this too would pass unnoticed, he was wrong. A slight, "Ahem," from Hermione made him glance up warily, and when he did, Harry felt himself grow red all over again. Hermione was looking at him quite as if she knew what was going on. Her gaze shifted meaningfully from Harry to Ginny and back again. With the slightest lift of her eyebrows, she effectively communicated to Harry that she, at least, was on to him. And though she busied herself about her books again without a single word, Harry insides squirmed horribly.

Ginny, on the other hand, did not look at him. With an easy, "Hello," to all of them, she returned to the chair she’d been in previously and began to discuss her Transfiguration assignment with Hermione. Harry was at once disappointed by her nonchalance, and grateful for it. He didn’t particularly want to look her in the eye, especially considering the things she’d said to him before she’d gone to dinner. You deserve to break down, Harry, you really do, his mind echoed.

But even though they didn’t look at one another, Harry felt far too uncomfortably aware of her to get any work done. He could hardly sit still, though he worked very hard to do so. He was sure that any moment, Ron would notice something was wrong with him and ask what was up – and it was a question Harry simply couldn’t answer. After a torturous fifteen minutes in which he wrote exactly four words of his essay, Harry finally begged a headache and returned upstairs to complete his assignments, seriously frustrated with himself.

He stormed into his dormitory and crashed onto his four-poster with a disgusted sigh. It’s only Ginny, he told his brain angrily. But this was a most unhelpful consolation when his brain reminded him that only an hour ago, Ginny had seemed to be the one person in the world who actually understood what he was thinking. Just as importantly, she seemed to be tied into his connection with Voldemort...

Harry pushed aside his homework, pulled on his pajamas and shut his bed-curtains with a violent yank. He lay awake for some time, his palm resting across his scar, trying to understand. But he couldn’t make sense of anything – least of all the fact that, quite against his will, he suddenly found himself thinking that Ginny Weasley was getting rather pretty.

"No way," he muttered into his pillow, burying his face and wishing for the comfort of thoughtless slumber. It was a long time tossing, though, before he finally got his wish and fell asleep.

//
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