The Sugar Quill
Author: Arabella (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Sine Qua Non  Chapter: Chapter Three
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Okay. So let’s pretend that now it’s Christmas Eve. Our favorite four have obviously remained at Hogwarts. At the beginning of the month, something happened involving Voldemort. I don’t know what, it doesn’t matter, just pretend it’s something bad (I’m such a slave to detail) and that Voldemort is near enough now to be giving Harry a constant, dull pain in his head. Harry’s been rather on edge lately because he doesn’t want to admit he’s in pain. Instead, he’s just been pretending not to feel it. He doesn’t want to bring it up, mostly because of Ron but also because he’s been avoiding dealing with his possible feelings for Ginny – and he knows that the second he admits his head is throbbing, he may also have to admit to Ginny that she’s capable of helping him. (And what boy would want to do that?)

Let’s also pretend, just for the fun of it, that over the previous summer Hermione did indeed visit Viktor Krum in Bulgaria – and let us imagine that a very jealous Ron sent her a letter containing Floo Powder, demanding that she get into the nearest fireplace and come back to Britain at once. J Ron and Hermione, for the purposes of this story, have not confessed to liking one another. Yet.

***

The night before Christmas, Harry woke with a start. He was shivering and his head was in a vise-like grip of agony. Voldemort was near. Very near. Panicked, Harry snatched up Hermione’s music box as he had planned to do in case of this event, opened it, and began to direct it to sing. He was determined, even through the crazy throbbing, not to call out for Ginny Weasley.

"Dumbledore," he muttered unthinkingly, "Ron Weasley – Hermione Granger..." he winced fiercely – nothing was happening to stop the pain. "The Weird Sisters – Neville Longbottom – oh, anybody, come on –" Harry rattled off a long string of popular musicians and famous singers. No-one’s voice relieved him in the slightest.

Voldemort must be right outside the door, thought Harry blindly, gripping his forehead with both hands. He felt as if his head were splitting along his scar, breaking in two, and he knew it would only be another moment before he had to do it. "Cho Chang!" he cried desperately, and then, "Lily Potter!" Yes, there was his mother’s voice, as clear as it had been the first time he had told her name to the music box. But even this did not relieve his beating brain. Finally, he surrendered to the inevitable. Doubling over, he managed to croak, "Ginny Weasley."

It was only a whisper, but someone moved in the next bed. Ron was awake. Harry heard the thump of Ron’s feet on the floor – winced as the curtains of his four-poster were pushed apart – but before Ron could ask Harry if he was all right, the music box began to sing in Ginny’s voice.

The throbbing in Harry’s head was instantaneously reduced by half. It was still very painful, but at least he could think. He could see Ron looking from his scar to the music box mistrustfully – but this was no time to defend himself; he was still in far too much pain. He knew why it wasn’t stopping completely as it had before. The music box voice couldn’t do as well as Ginny herself.

"Get Ginny," Harry gasped, his eyes shut, the flat of his palm pressed over his scar. "Please, Ron. Get me downstairs and get Ginny." Ron took him by the elbow no questions asked, and once Harry was lying on the sofa in the shadowy common room, Ron sprinted up the stairs to the girls’ dormitory. He returned pushing Ginny before him drowsily, Hermione beside them.

"Harry!" she called, running ahead of Ginny and Ron. "Are you all right?"

He nodded – a stupid move on his part, which made his head throb so hard he thought he might retch. "Ginny – sing something –" he managed weakly, too much in pain to care what he was saying. "Please hurry."

Ginny, who had been rubbing her eyes a moment before, barely awake, was startled into her senses.

"What – now?!"

"Yes," said Hermione quickly, seeing how ill equipped Harry was to explain the situation at present. "You have to sing, Ginny. Harry heard you this summer – for some reason it stops the pain in his scar."

Ron’s face grew very dark at this, and he opened his mouth to protest. But before he could speak, Ginny unhesitatingly dropped to her knees beside the sofa. Her face had taken on a remarkable luminescent quality – Harry felt a pale, cool energy radiating from her as she leaned close and began to hum a low lullaby melody close by his ear.

Harry’s head, at once, was perfectly clear. There was not even a shadow of the pain. He reveled in the peace of it for only a second before he became fully aware of what was going on around him. Ron was standing over him, looking grim. Hermione was next to him, her eyes round and anxious. And here was Ginny, kneeling by him, humming steadily.

He sat bolt upright, startling her into silence. She looked at him, a touch apprehensively. "Are you better, Harry? Or do you need me to keep on?" For a moment, they looked at each other. Ginny’s face was pale, but Harry noticed she looked... determined, somehow.

"Yeah," he said slowly. "Yeah, Ginny, I’m better." There was a pause between them as each took in what had just happened. Harry studied Ginny’s eyes in the silence. She did not look away.

"I heard you trying that music box, Harry," said Ron suddenly, stepping up behind Ginny. "But I guess none of those other voices can do it, eh?" A note of sarcasm lingered in the still air. "Well, isn’t that good to know, then."

"Shhh," said Hermione impatiently, pulling him back by his pajama sleeve and keeping a hold on him. "This is important, Ron."

Harry agreed. It was important. Ginny’s voice had a power – a very useful power, to him. It could keep his head clear near Voldemort. HHHarry knew that half the advantage Voldemort had over him was the fact that his very presence splintered Harry’s head in agony. He had never been able to keep a clear head, with Voldemort nearby. But with Ginny, perhaps.... Harry turned to Ron, determined to make him see sense.

"I tried the music box, Ron," he said. "You heard me. Nobody else’s voice helped."

"How sweet," said Ron darkly. Harry opened his hands in appeal, ready to argue again, but Hermione stopped him.

"Look, do you want him to suffer?" she demanded, letting go of Ron’s sleeve and rounding on him. "If Ginny can kill the pain like that, imagine how much better Harry’s chances are if You-Know-Who should ever–"

"My little sister is NOT going ‘round with Harry to fight You-Know-Who!" Ron roared. "You want her to get killed?"

"Of course not! It’s just that she’s –"

"STOP IT!"

Ginny had never said anything so forcefully in her life. Everybody stared. She was looking up at Ron furiously from her position by the sofa, illuminated by a long shaft of moonlight.

"I’m not," she said sharply, "little. I’m one year behind you Ron – one – and think of all you did in four years at Hogwarts. I’ve done things, too. I’ve seen things. I’ve met Voldemort." She had said the name. Ron winced.

"Say You-Know-Who."

"Voldemort," said Ginny and Harry together.

Ginny turned back to Harry. "If that helps at all – me singing – I want to do it," she said, looking paler than ever, and older somehow. "You have to let me help you."

Ron made a move forward, but Hermione put a hand on his arm and he stopped.

Harry was still staring at Ginny. He had been doing so, intensely, since the first time she had said "Voldemort." She had not sounded afraid. And as he looked at her now, Harry saw no fear – only something else, like a fever. He knew somehow that the next time he faced Voldemort, he wanted her to be standing by him. The idea gave him a rush of courage, and of... something else. He felt a sudden, deep pang that had nothing to do with his scar.

Harry nodded faintly at Ginny, who was still kneeling there, her hands clasped together on the sofa cushion so tightly that her knuckles were white. He reached out without thinking straight, and tugged a lock of her disheveled hair, very gently. "Okay," he said. "Okay."

Ron made a strangled sort of noise, and Harry retracted his hand as thought it was on fire. Ginny remained frozen for one breathless second, then stood up, looking very tall and white in her nightdress, her red hair a ghostly pallor in the moonlit room. "Goodnight Hermione," she said, and Harry saw that her fingers were trembling. "Goodnight, Ron."

"Goodnight," said Hermione. Ron was silent.

Ginny turned to Harry. "If you need me..." she began quietly.

"I’ll come get you," he finished, without skipping a beat. "I promise."

She nodded simply, smiled in a way that made Harry’s heart clap against his ribs, then climbed up the stairs and disappeared, leaving the three of them very quiet for several minutes, Harry staring at the stairs and wondering what exactly had just happened. His scar was forgotten. He wanted to know why his insides were behaving this way – what had made him reach out and tug Ginny’s hair – why, when he’d noticed her fingers shaking, he’d wanted to –

"If she gets killed, I’ll never forgive you," Ron hissed suddenly into the dark room, interrupting Harry’s reverie. Then he looked a little sick. "Harry, honestly – you don’t – you don’t like her or anything – do you?"

Harry, his panic and all other serious feelings subsiding now, had room to be annoyed. "Come off it, Ron, will you?" he said, rubbing his head and getting up off the couch. "I’m going to bed."

"So you don’t, then?" Ron pressed.

"Ron," Harry entreated, "C’mon, I’m dead tired –"

"Then say you don’t."

"And what if he does?" Hermione suddenly snapped, her eyes flashing dangerously at Ron. "Ginny’s smart and good and brave and pretty – and – well – Harry’s an idiot if he doesn’t like her!"

"He’s an idiot if he does!"

But Harry’d had quite enough of the conversation. He wasn’t going to be third party to his own love life. "Why, Ron?" he challenged, standing very straight and looking his friend directly in the eye. "What if I did? What would you do?"

Ron looked revolted. "Oh, now, this is just sick –"

"Is it?" Harry retorted. "Any sicker than you liking Hermione?"

The second the words left him, Harry tried to vacuum them back inside – to unsay them – but it was no good. It was out. It was too late. Ron was staggered. Hermione’s hands flew to her mouth. For a moment, Harry was absolutely certain that neither of them would ever speak to him again and he held his breath, waiting for somebody to punch him.

Hermione broke the silence. She let out a high pitched sound through her hands, and then took them down from her face. "Oh, Harry," she breathed, unsteadily, "you’re... you’re not supposed to say that..." And then, to everyone’s immense surprise, Hermione let out a sudden shriek of laughter, fell into a chair, and pointed up at Ron. "But it’s so... it’s so.... it’s so true!" she gasped.

"What?!" Ron pivoted, incredulous. "It is not!"

"Oh, yes it is," Hermione was now giggling uncontrollably. "Sending me Floo Powder this summer – honestly."

Ron gazed at her in a sort of half-horror and then Harry saw him do an unexpected thing. He grinned broadly at Hermione, and ran a hand through his hair so that it stuck up wildly in every direction. "Couldn’t have you off with Vicky forever," he said staunchly. "How’d I ever pass the O.W.L.’s?"

"Oh, that’s why you wanted me back is it?" she said, crossing her arms and attempting to look injured. But it didn’t last. Ron drummed his fingers lightly on her head. Hermione allowed this, beaming up at him. His ears went very red. Harry was now the one who felt slightly sick.

"Seriously, cut it out," he said feebly.

"Seriously, cut it out!" mocked Ron. "Shut it, Harry – this is your fault, mate," he said through a lopsided grin. Harry had to admit that this was true, therefore he did manage to hold back from making any further comments. But he also had to avert his eyes from the very strange sight of Hermione and Ron, blushing at each other like a couple of idiots.

"Hey," Harry said suddenly, remembering something. "I don’t want to er... interrupt..."

"Then don’t," said Ron dryly. Hermione giggled.

"I have to," Harry pressed. "It’s this – you know... Dumbledore said last year that he thinks the only times my scar ever hurts like that are when Voldemort – sorry –" Ron had winced again– "when He’s close by or... or feeling really murderous."

Hermione was already on her feet. "I’ll get Professor Dumbledore right now," she said. "I’ll tell him."

"You don’t have to go right now," Harry protested, "I just meant, you know, tomorrow we should probably say something." Even with all that had happened in his years at Hogwarts, Harry was never in a hurry to disclose his aches and pains to Dumbledore – and he knew he’d feel especially idiotic waking his Headmaster in the middle of the night before Christmas to discuss the pains in his scar. But Hermione wasn’t listening to him.

"Harry, don’t be stupid, what if You-Know-Who is really close? We can’t afford to wait until tomorrow, you know that. And anyway, I’m a prefect, I’m supposed to get Dumbledore if there’s an emergency," she said briskly, striding to the portrait hole.

"Starting to sound like Percy, that one," Ron muttered to Harry.

"I heard that," Hermione tossed over her shoulder. "Are you coming?" She pushed open the portrait and climbed through it herself. "Come on," she urged, holding it open.

Shrugging at each other, Ron and Harry followed. Ron climbed through first and Harry had one leg over the frame when he stopped. "Shouldn’t we get Ginny?" he said tentatively. "Dumbledore’s going to want to know...." he trailed off. Ron’s eyes were boring holes into him again.

"Let her sleep," he said shortly. "You can explain it just as well without her."

Harry gave a nod. That was true. He didn’t want to wake Ginny again, after all, even though when she’d been downstairs, he’d felt... Harry struggled to put his finger on what he’d felt, but he couldn’t. The strange pang his heart had given didn’t have a name. But he cast a look behind him at the girls’ staircase as the portrait swung shut, and wished that Ginny were with them anyhow.

They hurried along the drafty passages toward Dumbledore’s office without making a sound – for even on Christmas Eve, even on official prefect business, Filch was likely to give them all detention for running through the corridors in their pajamas. When they arrived at the stone gargoyle that marked the entrance, Hermione tapped it and said, "Canary Cream," in the lowest possible voice.

"That’s his password?" laughed Ron aloud. She nodded curtly, holding a finger to her lips in silent reprimand. "He’s a nutter all right," Ron whispered admiringly, dodging a swat from Hermione as the wall sprang open to reveal the escalator. It rose directly up to the oak door of the Headmaster’s office, and Hermione and Ron stepped on without hesitation.

Harry, however, looked askance at the door – he didn’t want to disrupt Dumbledore – he wished beyond anything that his scar had never hurt him – that he could just go back to Gryffindor and get some sleep. But he knew Hermione was right – they couldn’t afford to wait when his scar acted up like this. Not anymore. Voldemort could be anywhere now. The thought gave him a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach as he stepped onto the escalator, touching two fingers to his scar, which had just begun to throb again. He hoped it wasn’t going to get very painful this time – not with Ginny so far off.

Harry froze at the thought, his fingers still on his forehead. Not with Ginny so far off, he repeated to himself, remembering that she was asleep in Gryffindor Tower, not far off at all. Harry smiled slightly and squared his shoulders, feeling his courage rise.

 

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