The Sugar Quill
Author: Ford Prefect (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: We Don't Need Dances  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.

Disclaimer:  I kiss the feet of JK Rowling, for she is good (as well as the owner of this wondrous stuff which I am pilfering for the time being, with many apologies).

A/N:  Many thanks to the wonderful Sugar Quill for entertaining me with its wonderful stories, especially while we wait (and wait and wait) for book 5.  Happy Anniversary!  This is my first HP fan fic, so be kind.

From behind her piles of books, somewhere between Ruined Runes:  How To Keep Your Runes from Getting Ruddy and From Stool to Stool:  Transfigurational Advantages of Fungi, Hermione watched Harry and Ron working on their Divination homework. 

"What do you reckon, Harry?  'On Friday due to a misalignment of Mars and Venus, I will sprain . . .'"  Here Ron stopped scribbling for a moment to chew his lower lip thoughtfully.  "'No, I will break'--nothing so good as severe bodily damage for good marks, you know--'my right arm in a freak writing accident.'"

"Honestly," Hermione muttered to herself.  She finished up her Herbology assignment with a quick flourish, and as she rolled up her parchment, she let her gaze drift back to her two best friends as they plotted their many potential demises.

"Whaddya think about this?" Harry asked.  "'This Wednesday I will develop a large purple rash after a nasty run-in with a fire-breathing iguana.  Then on Thursday someone will try to use me for their own personal gain'?"

"Mm, not bad.  But maybe you need to make it sound more miserable.  How ‘bout, 'Someone will use you as a pawn in their own dirty game, sullying your good name to tragic results'?"

"Good one--probably Snape.  We have Potions Thursday.  Bet he'll try to poison me again or something, or make me say something really embarrassing in front of everybody."

They both paused.  Hermione didn't fail to notice the significant look that passed between the two in that split second.

"Reckon we should finish this up, eh, Harry?"

Harry nodded vigorously in response, and within minutes their Divination work was done.  She watched both boys waving their parchment around in the air, holding herself back from saying that if they ever paid attention in Charms they would have known to cast the Quick-Drying spell.

She suddenly drew her eyes back with an embarrassed blush.  Ron shot her a puzzled look, then turned his attention back to Harry, but not before giving her a second, questioning look.  She hadn't realized it, but even while she had been looking at both of them, her eyes had wandered mostly over to Ron.  He had gotten so tall over the summer, and, well . . . she wasn't so oblivious that she hadn't noticed some of the third and forth year girls giving him more than a passing glance this year.  When she had met up with Ron and Harry at Diagon Alley she had been almost startled speechless at how Ron had managed to get even taller, and, she felt another rush of blood in her face, how he had gotten a bit broader in the shoulders.  Stop it, she admonished herself.  Really, it was silly.  He was just Ron.  Her friend.  So what was last year all about, then?  her brain asked.  She heard herself give a little growl. 

It was just all this nonsense.  About two weeks ago Professor McGonagall had announced in Transfiguration, "That due to the overwhelming demand, Hogwarts will have another Yule Ball for forth years and up, although Beauxbaton and Durmstrang were not to be involved this year (unless students wrote and asked for express permission to invite an international student to the dance).  Hermione had found it difficult to keep herself from turning red when this part was announced, especially since Parvati and Lavender had shot her a look and giggled conspiratorially to one another.

"Agh!"

Hermione snapped out of her thoughts and looked up.  Ron was holding with the tips of his fingers, a quill.

"What's wrong?"

"Ugh, I think this is your quill, Harry."

"How'd you figure?"  Harry held up another quill.  "They look about the same to me.  What does it matter anyway?"

"My quill doesn't taste like eagle feather."

Harry looked thoughtfully at the quill in his hand and stuck the end of it in his mouth.  "Mm, black currant."

Ron swiped it away.  "Hey, that's my last sugar quill, mate.  Give it here, Harry."

"Liar. I saw a whole box of 'em under--"

Ron glared at Harry, and Harry promptly shut his mouth.   "Oh, right."

"Yeah," Ron said darkly, his eyes darting suspiciously around the room.  "That's right."  Hermione raised one eyebrow. 

They both quickly packed up their things and proceeded to leave the room.  "Err, see you at dinner!" Harry shouted over his shoulder to Hermione, a strangled, twisted kind of look on his face.  What was going on with those two?  Honestly, boys . . .

***

The Christmas holidays were fast approaching, and with each day Harry and Ron seemed to get more and more secretive, and for some reason, a bit jumpy.  Hermione had an idea why, but she didn't like to think about it.  Especially when it concerned Ron.

Her face twisted up in frustration.  Why was this so hard? she wanted to know.  It shouldn't matter, not this much.  She was an intelligent, young witch with lots of important things to do, to think about.  For instance, Harry.  But then again, Harry had seemed equally preoccupied these last few weeks, and she had noticed his rather moony looks during meals at the Ravenclaw table to a particular seeker.  But it was also Harry, she reasoned.  He wouldn't be as worried about his own safety as much as his friends would be.  That was how he was like.

"Who are you going with this year, Parvati?"  Hermione looked around and saw Lavender and Parvati huddled in the stacks, whispering.  "Seamus has already asked me again."  There was a flurry of muffled giggles.  Hermione shot them both an evil look that they missed. 

“Has Padma found a date yet?”

“No, but she’s told me who she wants to ask her.”

Lavender giggled.  “Ooh, who?”

“Guess.”

Hermione rolled her eyes.  Those two were making no attempt to be quiet.  Did they have any sense of propriety?  They were in the library.

Parvati sort of inclined her head and as suddenly as that, Lavender covered her mouth and gasped.  “No!  Not him!?  Not after last year.  ”

Parvati nodded solemnly.  “Well it’s true.  I have to admit though, he’s spiffed up quite a bit this last year.  He kind of looks like his brother now.”

Lavender made a face.  “Fred and George?  No.”

Hermione gave up all pretense of concentrating on her work.  She felt her stomach bottom out.

“No, no, his older brother.”

“Prefect Percy?  Eww.  But he was so--”

Parvati sighed resignedly.  “Come on now, Lavender.  Use your inner-eye.  I’m talking about Charlie Weasley.  You know, famous Gryffindor seeker.  He was there last year during the Triwizard Tournament.”

There was another series of giggles, and both girls leaned in closer to one another to whisper.  All Hermione caught was something about “dragon leather” before she got frustrated with herself and tutted herself for being silly.

She was about to banish all thoughts of dances and boys when she spotted Neville heading in her direction.  She bit her lip, trying to decide what to do.  It hadn't escaped her notice that lately Neville had been hovering around her a lot more lately, and since all the teachers had been slackening off with homework in preparation for the holiday, she had a feeling he wasn't trying to ask her to help him with his homework, although the last few times he had squeaked nervously about having her help him with studying for Potions so he would better prepared for the next term.

However, the dance was coming up really fast.  Less than a week, really, and Neville seemed to have a tremendously intense look on his face as he shuffled his way towards her.  Oh, no!  She had to think quickly.  Neville was a really nice boy and everything, but . . . .  Hermione quickly pushed her chair back and catapulted her way deeper in the library.   She disappeared into the shelves, embarrassed at herself.  Why not go with Neville? she thought.  He was perfectly nice, and a good friend.  And he seemed to genuinely admire and like her, and never insulted her or made her angry like some people . . .

"Ooof!"  A large book dropped to the floor and hit Hermione's right foot, but the "ooof" had not been hers.

She stared up at Ron whose ears were slowly turning into a shade closely resembling rhubarb.  He started, his expression a bit dazed.  Then quickly he recovered and swooped down to grab the book at their feet, Engaging Enchantments:  Personalizing Your Parchment for School and Special Events.  He then stuffed the book underneath his school robes and shuffled around nervously.

"What are you doing here?" he managed, his voice dancing between various octaves.  His breathing was quick and shallow.

"ME?" she cried indignantly, "It's the LIBRARY, Ron.  What do you think I’m doing?"

"Err, right." 

"What are you doing here?"

"Hey," he seemed to regain some composure and somehow managed to draw himself up to his full height, "it's a free country. I'm allowed to use the library if I want to.  I'm . . . I'm just looking for some books so, you know, I can prepare for the O.W.L.S.  You're not the only one concerned about their future."  He threw her a triumphant little grin.  She noticed the little crinkles that formed around his eyes when he smiled with his whole face, and how it made him look even more maddening than usual.  "How else am I supposed to attain world-wide wizarding fame that is destined to be my fate without a little extracurricular reading?"

"Did your inner-eye tell you that?" she asked scathingly, feeling her annoyance arise even though she knew she didn't have much of an excuse to be mad at Ron. Not one she would ever admit to herself anyway.

"Mock my sight, will you?"  He pressed both index fingers to his forehead.  "Hermione Granger," he wheezed in a misty voice, his eyes crossing to what he thought to be great hilarity, "I see in your future . . . OOOF!"  The heavy book had dropped from the folds of Ron's robes and had hit him in his overlarge feet this time.  Hermione reached down to grab it, but he beat her to it.

"Err, gotta go.  Harry's waiting for me."

"But--" But Ron had dashed away before she could say another word.

Hermione sighed, looking back at the spot where they had just stood a moment ago, only two inches apart.  Who was she kidding?  Ron and the Yule Ball would never be more than bad memories of last year, and non-existent ones of this year's.  Of course there was the possibility that she could just muster up the courage and ask him, but sometimes Ron just made absolutely no sense to her.  Did he even know how she felt?  Was he really that daft, or did he not think of her that way, ever?  Maybe last year had been entirely an exaggeration of her own feelings, and he had just been a prat as usual, only in heightened circumstances?  Whatever the situation may have been, right now she just wasn't sure, and Ron simply meant too much to her to change how things stood now if he didn't feel the same way.  They had to stick together if they were going to be there for Harry, and that was another risk she wasn't willing to take now, as much as she sometimes hoped.

"Oh, Ron," she sighed.

"Err, Hermione?"

She whirled around and looked up expectantly.  Then immediately she dropped her eyes.  "Yes, Neville?" she said with a patient, although disappointed sigh.

"Would you, err . . . help me with this Potions essay?"

***

After dinner, Hermione noticed that Harry was acting a bit strangely. He kept staring at the portrait hole nervously, twisting his hands and then running them through his already unruly hair.  She glanced around the room and noticed that Ginny Weasley was nowhere to be seen. 

Maybe she had been spending too much time around Parvati and Lavender these last few years, but in a brief moment her mind did a quick jump of romantic proportions.  Maybe Harry was going to ask Ginny to the ball!  Ginny, like Ron, had done her own bit of growing over the summer, and feeling like a big sister, Hermione was feeling proud that she was growing up so quickly.  It would be quite tremendous if Harry did ask Ginny, she thought.  There was no chance that she'd be going to the Yule Ball with Ron this year, but Hermione had steeled herself to be content with that, but maybe Ginny would have a chance to go with the person she'd most like to be asked by.  Hermione knew that this year Ginny had tried to banish any remnants of her crush on Harry, but Hermione knew first hand that things like that could be quite difficult, and that willing yourself was only part of it.  There needed to be time to get over it as well.

The portrait hole swung open and someone tall and red-headed appeared. 

“Hey,” Ron panted, nodding to both her and Harry.  He stopped for a moment and readjusted his robes which were almost gathered around his knees in a mess.  Looking up, he  turned his gaze first to Harry, then it came to rest on her.  She felt her chest tighten up.  He rarely ever looked at her like that, at least not that she had been aware of.  His eyes seemed to have grown darker, and he didn’t blink once.  It made her feel rather uncomfortable, but it almost made her feel like she was burning up, and not in a bad way. 

Ron finally broke his gaze away.  “Err, have to get something up in the dormitory.”  He rushed upstairs, the tips of his ears visibly red.

“What’s that about?” she trailed off distractedly.

Harry shrugged, shuffling his feet.  He gave one more look up to the boys dorm and physically seized himself up. 

“Er, Hermione.  Can I ask you something?”

Hermione panicked.  Harry wasn’t going to ask her to the ball, was he? 

“Uh, sure!” she squeaked, not knowing what else to say.  Of all times to be tongue-tied, she lamented.  Why couldn’t she come up with something clever and distracting?

“Well, you see, there’s something . . . a bit of a project . . . and ah, well could you give it a look, and tell me what you think of it?  I mean, if it’ll work?”

Hermione made no attempt to hide the sigh of relief that flitted through her lips.  Every muscle in her body that had been clenched tight with tension relaxed.  She was surprised that she hadn’t sunk to the floor in a puddle of goo.

“Oh, is that all?” she asked calmly.  Harry was just asking for a homework opinion.  “What kind of project is it?  For what class?”

“Um. . . “  Harry frowned, his glasses slipping down on his nose.  “It’s kind of hard to explain.   You sort of have to see it and . . . try it out.  So, will you?”

“Of course, Harry!”  She smiled.  “So where is it?” 

“OH, it’s not in here.  It’s set-up in one of the empty classrooms.”  Harry glanced at the mountain of books and homework Hermione had set-up in front of her.  “Won’t take long,” he added hastily, nodding towards it.

The classroom was only a quick stop away.  Harry walked in first, and then turned around to face her.  The room was well-lit with long, thin cream-colored candles.  They almost looked too elegant for a classroom, but function was function, was it not? 

But there didn’t seem to be anything else in the classroom.  Where was Harry’s project?  She craned her neck around, and then saw bits of parchment sitting on desks pushed up against the walls.   Accompanying each piece of parchment was a single quill and a bottle of ink.

“Is this like an exam?”

“Not really.”  Harry appraised the room, then walked over to the left side of the room where the first piece of parchment sat.  “It’s kind of like, a riddle that you have to answer, and, well you’re clever, Hermione.”

Harry made a beeline for the doorway. 

“Harry?”  He skidded to a stop.

“Forgot something—er, I’ll be back in a bit?  You can manage?” 

“Suppose so.”  She shot him a confused look. 

Harry nodded and practically sprinted back to the Gryffindor common room.  He’s behaving really oddly, she thought, but the offer of a challenge before her soon drew Hermione back to the task at hand.

Black ink was lovingly (although a little sloppily) scrawled on the top of the brownish parchment paper.  She scanned it quickly.  There was a bit of a rhyme, and a blank line to fill.  But with what?

I know I’m not the brightest bloke,

That I’m always tryin’ to make a joke,

But surely as this quill is ­­­­­_________

Here the writing ended.   Hermione puzzled.  The rhyme only took up the top half of the parchment, and rest remained blank.  What was she supposed to do?  She thought for another moment and decided to look at the other two pieces of parchment in the room.  She thought there might be a clue in the rhymes on the other sheets, but when she looked, both were blank.  What now?

Returning to the first piece of parchment, she picked up the quill and twirled it in her fingers.  Well, she thought, this quill is what?  A feather?  A writing utensil?  It was white, well, more of a cream colour, and it was light. 

Hermione dipped the quill into the bottle of ink and decided to scribble in, “a feather.”

What came next caused her to step back in surprise.

A feather?  Is that the best you can come up with?  Let’s actually TRY this time, shall we?

“Well that’s RUDE,” Hermione said. She “hmph!” to herself and tried again.  Apparently this was an enchanted piece of parchment, and one with an attitude.  Well, she wasn’t one to back down from a challenge.

The words she had just written vanished off the parchment along with the enchanted message, and the line was blank yet again.  This time, she tried “white.”  Perhaps the answer had to be one word.  After all, there was only one blank, not two.

WRONG AGAIN!  And you’re supposed to be the cleverest witch in her year?  C’mon, think harder.  And not just with your brain this time.

Hermione felt her face burn.  Well HONESTLY, what else besides her brain was she supposed to think with?  Her nose?

She started and stared at the quill in her hand.  No, not think with her nose, but with her taste buds. . .

She eyed the quill.  Maybe it wasn’t a feather.  Tentatively, she raised the quill to her face.  The fine little plumes danced gently with the movement of her hand.  Then, without anymore hesitation, she stuck the end of the quill in her mouth.

“Peach!” she cried out in delight after a few seconds.  She had been right!  It wasn’t a feather quill, but a sugar quill.

Removing the sugar quill from her mouth, she dipped it back into the ink and wrote down “peach.”

FINALLY!  That’s the girl I know.

Hermione beamed. 

The previous message disappeared after a few moments, and another message soon followed, finishing off the riddle and rhyme.

I know I’m not the brightest bloke,

That I’m always tryin’ to make a joke,

But surely as this quill is ­­­­­peach,

Events from last year me did teach,

Below the rhyme little arrows pointed towards the center of the room and had a little note that said, “next parchment, please!”

The parchment in the middle of the room had no riddle for her, though.  Instead, it had another note for her.

Err, sorry.  This parchment’s supposed to be the last one.  D’you mind?

Shrugging, she moved eagerly to the next piece of parchment.  This was quite fun, actually, and Hermione was very curious as to what effect Harry was looking to achieve with it.

The previous rhyme had appeared on the once blank parchment now (Hermione made a note to herself to look up information about this spell later in the library), and a few more lines followed it.  She picked it up in one hand, and the quill in the other.

That I was too blind to see,

That the problem was entirely me,

And true as this quill tastes like _______

Hermione sucked on the top of the quill and immediately scribbled down the flavour—pear.

And true as this quill tastes like pear,

That you are something rare,

She blinked, and felt her stomach do little flip-flops.  If this was going to lead to what she thought it would—but whom?  And did Harry mind if she knew?  It was true that she was one of his best friends, but he could have simply told her before.  Was this meant for Cho?  Or did Harry mean this for Ginny?  Or some other girl that she didn’t know?

She rushed to the last and final piece of parchment, a little breathless with anticipation.  Harry must be really serious about this, she thought.  This must have been a lot of work.  Hermione quickly picked up the quill and quickly read the last few lines.  It took some restraint to not test the flavour of the sugar quill immediately.  She bounced on her heels.

So what I am trying to say,

Sometime today,

Is that it would be sweeter than ______  ____,

Hermione tasted the quill.  For a moment, she wasn’t sure.  It tasted like melon, but what kind?  She stuck the quill in her mouth again and concentrated.  Then she got it—Honey dew!    The quill popped out of her mouth, and quickly dipping it into the ink, she scribbled in less than her usual neat handwriting, the two words.  She stared, willing the rhyme to finish, but when it did, she was struck stupid.

If, Hermione, I could go to the ball with you.

Hermione?  Everything in her body—her stomach, her heart, lurched wildly in confusion.  Harry didn’t mean—he wasn’t—the sugar quill felt as though it was stuck to her hand, and she couldn’t pry it off if she tried. 

“Oh, no,” she moaned.  “No, no, no.”

Why, she thought bitterly, why did everyone except for the one person she wanted to go to the ball with, want to go with her?  What did Harry mean by this?  He was one of her dearest friends, but he must have known . . . didn’t he understand she didn’t like him like that?

She curled her hands into two, tight little fists.  The honey dew flavoured sugar quill crumbled into little crystals, spilling onto the still-wet ink on the parchment.  Hermione wanted to punch something—preferably herself.  She was about to hit herself in the forehead when the sound of movement behind her froze her mid-smack.

The words came spilling out of her mouth faster than she could think, and sooner than they should have.

“OH, oh. . .  Harry.  Oh, Harry, I’m really flattered, but I can’t go to the ball with you.  I mean I would, but . . . don’t you know that I don’t . . . you’re marvelous and all, and any girl would be lucky to go with you, but . . . .”  She knew she was rambling like a fool, but the words wouldn’t stop spilling out.  “I can’t go to the ball with you, Harry,” she finally began to turn around, mustering up enough courage to face him, “because I already said I’d go with Neville.” 

It was a relief to have gotten that all off her chest, and she looked up a bit red-faced, hoping to see Harry was okay with her explanation.  She hoped that he wasn’t too hurt, but it wasn’t Harry that stood in the doorway to the classroom.  It was worse.

“Ron!” she gasped in horror.  She felt herself blanch.

He seemed to move in slow-motion.  The look on his face—Hermione didn’t think she could ever wipe it out of her mind—was one mixed with anger, hurt, and utter bewilderment.  He made a strangled noise, and began to withdraw.

Hermione panicked.  She tried to shake herself into action, but as she did Ron was already out the door.  Rushing to the door—she had to stop him—she called his name into the empty hallway.  If she couldn’t stop him, then she had to catch up to him.  She had to explain.  But Ron, with his long limbs, had disappeared.  He was gone.

***

The next few days leading up the Yule Ball were some of the most painful, tense times Hermione had felt in a long time, and when one was friends with Harry Potter, that meant something.  There had been many times before when she and Ron had had horrible rows, and many times she thought that they were the worse it could ever get, but there was something about this particular fight that was worse.  Somehow, it seemed like it was the end of something.  That this fight was somehow final. 

Harry didn’t seem to know what to say to either of them.  Although Ron was at least talking to Harry, it was for perfunctory things.  With her, Harry just seemed embarrassed or unsure of what to say.  On top of that, he was nervous for himself.  He had asked Cho to the ball, and she had said yes, but as happy as he was about it, it was still all a little weird for him.  The fact that he couldn’t even talk to his two best friends about it made it even harder.

Ron didn’t even look at her.  This was much worse than it had been in their third year when he had ignored her for months.   It was like that, but trebled.  She was in a constant state of agitation.  She snapped at everyone, even poor Neville who looked at her as though she were a ticking time-bomb.  She felt terrible, but she couldn’t help it.  It didn’t help that lately she had been feeling even tetchier than usual.

She wished that the ball had never been announced.  She wished that Ron would just listen to her and let her explain.  She wished that she could not care about thins type of thing—this boy/girl thing, and focus on something more important.  However she’d be lying to herself if she denied that this was something important to her.  But wishes were like snitches.  She’d never get one, especially with the way she flew.

***

Hermione had worn the same periwinkle robes she had worn last year, although with slight alternations (Parvati and Lavender, in an attempt to cheer her up, had tried to convince her to let them cast a sparkle charm on her gown, but she had flatly refused).  She didn’t fail to notice that Ron had gotten new robes this year.  They were a rich midnight blue, and had no trace of lace in sight.  She also didn’t fail to notice that Ron’s dress robes seem to compliment the robes of his date.

His date, Hermione had found out due to some loud, and rather obvious whispering by Parvati and Lavender, was a pretty dark-haired Ravenclaw girl named Elspeth Duncan.  She was a fourth year, and had a sweet Scottish accent that made Hermione sick to her stomach.

The dance seemed to last forever.  She tried to focus on anything but what was bothering her, and managed for a few minutes when she watched Harry and Cho together.  They seemed to sit out most of the dance, speaking quietly to each other.  But it didn’t even interest her right now what they might be saying to each other.

A few times Ginny had broken away from dancing with Colin Creevey to try and cheer her up, but it only made Hermione feel worse.  However she was glad to note that Ginny seemed to be holding up really well in light of Harry going with Cho.  She just wished she had as much grace with her situation.

During her dances with Neville, she didn’t even register that he was stepping all over her toes and apologizing profusely every time.  Every time her eyes fell on Ron and Elspeth, she cringed.  Ron could really dance.  He and his partner were all over the dance floor.   They waltzed.  They two-stepped.  They almost put Fred and Angelina to shame when the fast songs came on.  Hermione hated every second of it.  It wasn’t fair.  Why could he have fun, but she had to feel so miserable?

Eventually she managed to leave early, apologizing to Neville for being such a terrible date (“Oh, no!  You were great!” he had squeaked nervously), and had retired to her room to try and sleep off her misery.  But sleep was the last thing she was going to get.  Long after Lavender and Parvati had stopped prattling about what a wonderful time they had had at the dance, Hermione still lay wide awake, staring up at the canopy of her bed.

Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore.  She would conquer this.  Climbing out of bed, she grabbed her copy of Hogwarts: A History, and made her way down to the common room to do some reading, and hopefully, some calming down.

She was surprised to find that the fire was lit at a small blaze when she got downstairs.  Even more surprising was the person she found there, his head covered by his long, lanky arms.  Hermione felt her breath catch in her throat. 

He must have heard her, because he looked up.  The slightest emotion flit across his face, but that was all.  Ron made no attempt to leave.  He didn’t yell at her, or ignore her.  He simply looked at her, and then looked away without a single word.

Oh, Ron, she thought desperately.  What was she to do?  She had to do something.  She hadn’t done something about this for a week, and she was old enough to know better, that things wouldn’t simply happen if she just sat around and waited.  So nervously, Hermione made the first move.  She shuffled across the common room to the side of the couch where Ron sat.  She looked down at the floor, unsure of what to say.  Her eyes traveled over to him and settled onto his feet.  His ankles stuck out from his too-short pyjamas, the firelight dancing across the little freckles on his skin.

Her chest tightened.  “Ron?” she whispered.  He didn’t look at her. “Ron, please speak to me.”

He remained silent, his eyes trained on the fire. 

Hermione hugged the book to her chest and steeled herself.  Taking a deep breath, she gathered up her courage and sat down on the end of the couch.  The far end of the couch, but still, on the couch where Ron also sat.

Minutes of empty silence passed, only the crackling of the fire assuring her that time hadn’t gotten stuck.  Hermione thought her head was going to explode.  Here they were, alone, and he wasn’t ignoring her like he had been before.  She had to say something, but what?

“Er, Ron—“

“Why did you think it was Harry?”  he said this in a rush.  His ears turned magenta, and the color was only magnified by the heat of the fire.

“Why, I . . .”   This was unexpected.  Had this been why he had refused to speak to her this whole week?  “I assumed it was Harry because he was the one who asked me to look at it.”

“I know I’m not smart like you, or even Harry, but,” he turned even redder, “was it because you didn’t think I was clever enough to come up with something like that?  Or that I was too poor to buy . . .”  He could not finish the rest of the sentence.

An exasperated sigh escaped her lips before she could do anything about it.  “Ron, you know I would never think that.  You shouldn’t say those things about yourself because they are not true!”  Because you are smart, especially when you try, she thought.  And you’re loyal and brave, and every time you lose your temper, I know it’s because you care too much.  And money doesn’t matter with me, because if it did I would, disgusting thought as it is, like Malfoy. 

“And because I think you’re lovely.”  Immediately her hands flew up to her face and she let out a little gasp.  Had she just said that out loud?

“Sorry?”  He turned away from the fire, and for the first time looked at her. 

“Nothing,” she mumbled in a rush.

“Oh.”  He sounded so dreadfully disappointed.  “Right then.”  He made to stand up.  She rushed to her feet.  It didn’t matter that it was three in the morning.  It didn’t matter that she was alone in the common room with Ron in only her nightgown, and that to any one stumbling in on them, it would seem highly improper.  All that mattered to her right now was that she and Ron could not leave things like this. 

She stared at him, and he at her.  Suddenly, little red splotches appeared on his face, and his expression, once calm and accepting began to turn angry.  “Y’know, I thought,” he struggled a bit, “I thought you knew me, ‘Mione.  But I guess I was dead wrong.”

“WHAT?” she exploded.  Exactly what was he playing at?

“That parchment—those rhymes—well it was a personalized spell.  You should’ve known straight off it was me asking you—not Harry.”  Then he snorted derisively.  “Not that it would’ve mattered.  You were already going with Neville.” 

“I cannot believe we’re having this conversation!” she shouted, then remembering that it was indeed still three in the morning, and that everyone was sleeping, she dropped her voice.  “This is all your fault, you know.  If you wanted to go with me, why didn’t you just ask straight off?  I as much told you to do that last year.”

“My fault? MY FAULT?”  He was making no effort to be quiet.  They’d get in trouble any second if he continued on in this manner.

“Shh!”

“Oh, this is rich!”  He threw his long arms up in the air, and went back to sit down on the couch.  He started grumbling.

“I wanted to go with you,” she said at last in quiet voice.  “Just you.”

Hermione watched Ron wrap his stomach in a tight hug. He rocked gently in his seat. This was so frustrating!  And Ron was so infuriating!  She wished he’d just say something.  It had taken her a lot to say what she had just told him, and here he was all silent and sullen.  That wasn’t any sort of response.

Finally, “You don’t really mean that.”

Her mouth dropped.  He was absolutely insufferable.

She was still holding Hogwarts:  A History, when something sticking out of the book caught her attention.  Forgetting Ron for a moment, she dropped the book to the floor and crouching down, flipped it open.

“Oh great,” he muttered.  “Second to a book again.”  She pretended not to hear that.  Rifling through the book, she finally found what she was looking for sandwiched between a chapter on the Enchanted Painting Rebellion of 1798 and the various methods utilized in the library to preserve the books in the restricted section to keep them in good condition and to prevent them from attacking readers.

She presented the object to Ron who eyed it suspiciously.  It was a sugar quill.

“What’s this supposed to be?  You want me to do homework, or something?”

“It’s a peace offering.  Please, take it.”

He took it slowly, and for a moment she felt her fingers touch his palm.  Quickly, she pulled it away, embarrassed at the flush that was already rushing to her face.  He placed it in his lap.

“Taste it.”

“Now?  Are you nutters?  It’s three in the morning.”

“When did you start refusing sweets?”  She placed her hands on her hips and leveled him with her gaze.

“Fine,” he grumbled, and stuck the end of the quill into his mouth.  His surly expression vanished and was replaced by one of surprise.  “Orange sherbet,” he said, startled.  “My favorite.”

“Yeah,” she said softly, and resumed her spot at the end of the couch.  “I know.” 

He looked at her.  “Where’d you get this?  You don’t normally have sweets, Hermione.”  He frowned.  “You didn’t get these from Vick—“

“I bought it off Parvati,” she interrupted loudly. 

He didn’t respond, but he didn’t say anything else.

At last, “Thank you.”  He said this in a soft, warm growl.  Hermione felt a bit dizzy.

“If, if,” she stuttered, “Ron, if you wanted to go to the ball with me, why didn’t you just ask me?  You didn’t have to do all that with the quills.”

He took a moment, not so much to think of what to say, but to find the voice to tell her.  “I wanted to make it special.”

She made an “O” with her mouth, and impulsively, moved closer to him. 

He looked at her hand, a foot away from where he sat, and slowly, reached out and took it in his overlarge one.  Hermione gasped softly, feeling shivers run up and down her back.  They sat like that for minutes in silence, but not one as uncomfortable as it had been before.

Ron finally cleared his throat when the clock chimed that it was four in the morning.  “There’ll be no more balls this year, I suppose.”

Bravely, she squeezed his hand a little.  “We don’t need dances . . .”  She couldn’t finish, but he seemed to get the gist of her meaning.   He squeezed her hand back.

“I reckon we should get to bed.”  She nodded in agreement.

They parted near the stairs, but something still felt wrong.  She watched him begin his way up the stairs, and before he completely disappeared into the stairwell, she had run over to him and pulled on the sleeve of his pyjamas. 

“Ron, I—“

He came back down and looked at her expectantly.

She didn’t know what to say.  She rather knew what she wanted to do—what she wanted to happen, but actually doing it was the difficult part.  She had done many things tonight that she never thought she would, but this next step. . . But how often was she to have an opportunity like this?  She blushed.  Hard.  It wasn’t likely that they were ever going to be alone like this for a long time.  That, and she didn’t think he really understood her meaning.  That Ron really didn’t know how she really, truly did feel.

Before she could think anymore, she acted.  Reaching up on her toes, one palm on his chest, the other on his forearm, she kissed him on the side of the mouth.  It was quick, but if had the desired effect.  She ran upstairs immediately afterwards, leaving Ron at the foot of the stairs, gaping in wonderment.

Back in her room Hermione lay in bed wide awake until she heard Parvati and Lavender stirring.  She touched her mouth, not believing what she had just done.  She had simply gone and kissed Ron.  Oh my.

Yet when the sun rose on the new day, and Hermione got dressed, she felt nervous and strange.  What if last night was some strange fluke?  They both had probably been very tired, and definitely, very emotional.  Had it all been a mistake? 

She bit her lip and tried to compose herself as she made her way down the stairs for breakfast.  She’d have to face Ron in the Great Hall.  How would he act?  Would he say anything?  So jumbled were her thoughts that when she reached the bottom of the stairs she didn’t notice that someone was waiting for her until she heard a light cough.

She gaped at first but managed to recover her composure.  He scratched at his red hair a little nervously, and without a word, inclined his hand forward towards the portrait hole.  He grinned weakly, but she beamed at him until he did the same. 

Together, they walked to breakfast. 

//
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