Author's Note: Dear all, here's a piece of festive fluff to get you in the Christmas spirit (or the holiday of your choice.) One reader suggested that a hot chocolate, coffee or cup of tea would be the ideal accompaniment to this one-shot and it's Harry/Ginny companion piece "Just To Make You Smile" which will be posted in the coming days.
My thanks, as always, to Anka, who knocks my mere words into the stories that are posted here :)
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,
"When tenderness and love abide, Rage and ire they'll override. Flaws give way to clear perfection, In the gaze of your affection."
Potions was an interminable bore, or, as Ron was more likely to say, "A bloody waste of time!" Professor Snape had, once again, allowed Gryffindor to be the subject of his inestimable wrath. Harry was the main target as usual, but twice the teacher had snapped at her for being "a boorish Miss know-it-all."
'I'd rather be a know-it-all than an ignorant oaf,' Hermione muttered to herself, slicing her tulip roots into neat chunks. Normally she'd be the last to say a lesson was less than interesting or worthless, unless it was Divination, but Professor Snape was making them brew the same potion for the third time this week. She'd got it right the last two times, and now it was just getting ridiculous.
On the table to her left Harry was concentrating intently on his potion, trying to ignore Snape's barbs. To her right Ron was…. She scowled at him and considered shaking him out of his preoccupation with Lavender Brown. He appeared to be staring at her assets. Hermione sighed. It must be hard being a teenage boy and being completely unable to do anything because you're too busy ogling your classmates' boobs.
'Mr Weasley, will you pay attention in my class? If you find yourself incapable of that simple task then get out and stop wasting my time.' Snape snapped, his black robes flowing as he whirled around and turned on Ron. The young man blushed and focused his attention back on his own desk, his ears burning scarlet as the Slytherins sniggered.
Hermione kept her face expressionless and waited for Snape to start bullying another student (Neville's potion was going blue, when it should have been silver). When she was certain the Professor wasn't looking, she took her carefully sliced roots and slid them onto Ron's desk before taking his own, untouched, ingredients.
Ron stared at the little chopping board full of neatly diced roots and then looked up at Hermione his mouth hanging open.
'Hurry up,' Hermione muttered out of the corner of her mouth. 'You don't have enough time. Anyone who doesn't finish this on time gets a detention.'
'No talking,' Snape said coldly, 'Ten points from Gryffindor for each of you. And Miss Granger, I'd prefer that you kept your conversations outside of my classroom.'
Snape looked down his hooked nose at her as she sliced her tulip roots frantically. 'You seem to be very behind, Miss Granger. Are you losing your infamous perfect touch? Or can you simply not be bothered to put in the effort required for my class?'
'No, Sir. Sorry, Sir.'
She looked up as he stalked away, resisting the urge to sand a good curse at his retreating back. She knew several, very advanced hexes that would wipe that sneer of his face, but she exercised restraint. Instead she concentrated on her ingredients, cutting and dicing, weighing and measuring. She had just watched the potion turned the required silver when the bell rang.
No one moved. If any student started to pack up before Snape said they could the chances were they would end up in detention every night for the next week.
'Well it seems that finally you have all learnt how to brew this most basic of potions. I have been thoroughly disappointed in all of you, with a few notable exceptions.' His gaze flickered towards where Malfoy stood, before returning to the front. 'You are dismissed. Miss Granger, however, will stay behind to discuss the details of her detention.'
Hermione gaped wordlessly at the teacher, not quite sure she'd heard him right. It seemed she wasn't the only one who didn't believe it, as every Gryffindor turned their head towards her to see her reaction.
'What for?' Ron demanded, adding a bad tempered 'Sir.' when Snape fixed him with a piercing stare.
'Miss Granger barely completed her potion on time. Such poor organisation must be punished. Not that it is any of your concern, Mr Weasley.'
Hermione tipped her potion into a large glass vial and began packing away her ingredients. Ron and Harry hurried over to give her a hand but she waved them away. 'I'll meet you in the common room after Arithmancy.'
'Are you sure?'
'Yes, Ron, just go, you'll be late for Divination otherwise.'
She finished packing up her things and went to stand demurely in front of the Professor's desk. The man was looking through some homework and smearing it liberally with red ink. She winced as he put a large "T" in a circle at the top of a paper before giving her his attention.
'Did you think I wouldn't notice you helping Weasley, Miss Granger?'
'I fail to understand why you wish to help those who gained access to my Advanced Potions class because I was forced to accept them. You, somehow, managed to get in on talent. By helping them you only hinder yourself.'
'Detention will be at eight o'clock tonight. Dungeon four. Leave your wand in your dormitory, Miss Granger, you won't be needing it.'
Hermione left the dungeon, breaking into a run as she glanced at her watch. She was going to be late for class. This was turning out to be one of the worst days ever. She had a perfect record until today. Well, she corrected herself, about as perfect as you can manage when you're best friends with Ron Weasley and Harry Potter.
She arrived at Arithmancy breathless, and sighed in annoyance when she saw that all the seats except one right at the back were taken. She made her way to the abandoned chair, right next to the draughty window, and dropped her bag onto the floor before settling down.
A strict, fierce looking wizard marched into the room and slammed the door behind him, making the occupants jump. He began to speak in a clipped, loud bark. 'Professor Vector is ill with a bad case of the Squits.' Several students wrinkled their noses at this, and began to murmur.
'He could have just said she was ill.' Hannah Abbott muttered from where she sat next to Hermione.
The Gryffindor girl was inclined to agree. The Squits was a nasty form of stomach bug, and basically described its symptoms. A mixture of agonising constipation and then humiliating diarrhoea.
' I have been told to cover this class for today,' the wizard continued. 'You will sit and read for today's lesson. I expect you to have read chapters twenty-two to twenty-four of Advanced Numerology. Professor Vector requests an essay on the magical properties of the base numbers, that is numbers one to nine, by tomorrow afternoon. Begin!'
Hermione gave a sigh of annoyance and reached into her bag for Advanced Numerology. It was typical. The one time in her entire school career she ended up in a proper detention and she had an essay deadline the next day. She'd have to get as much done before dinner as she could.
She flipped open the pages of the book and began to read feverishly, but her attention soon wandered. The wind howled around the window frame, whistling shrilly through the gaps between the masonry and the glass. She shivered hard and reached into her bag for her scarf and gloves. She had just wrapped the scarf around her neck when something white drifted passed the window pane.
Looking out she smiled as the snow began to fall, billowing on the strong wind that swept across Hogwarts ground. She propped her hand on her chin and watched, fascinated. The book lay forgotten on her desk, ignored when the intelligent witch was faced with the inexplicable magic of nature.
She thought of Ron. He'd probably be bouncing around the classroom in Divination, delighted at the first snow of winter. It was some kind of milestone for him. A sign that Christmas was coming. It was the same for her, really. It brought back memories of having fun with her parents, being taken sledding and walking in the dazzling field of white. Almost everyone related something with snow. The only person who seemed almost indifferent to it was Harry, who had no particular fondness for winter anyway.
She sighed softly, feeling a melancholy fill her up, not only at the thought of someone finding no joy in snow, but at the fact that she wouldn't be able to celebrate with a quick walk outside the castle. Tonight would be too busy, and by tomorrow it would be spoilt.
She wanted to be the first to put a footprint in the blanket of white. There was something magical about that. There was that moment of the pristine, then hours of happiness playing like the child you thought you'd ceased to be.
She remembered a time in the third year, when she and Ron had been constantly bickering about Crookshanks and Scabbers. They had squabbled for the third time that day. It must've been about late November. She had stormed away, furious. Her usual refuge, the library, had ceased to soothe her temper, but as soon as she saw the snow falling she knew what to do.
She had rushed outside, letting the flakes catch in her hair and melt on her robes. She must have stood there for hours, until she couldn't feel her nose and her hands were too cold to hold a quill. She had just been watching as the snow fell and fell, turning a dirty world pure again.
She hadn't noticed that someone was behind her until he had spoke.
She'd turned to face him and found him holding out a bottle of warm Butterbeer in his gloved hand. She had stood for a moment, not knowing what to do. In the end she had accepted it and they had stood, side by side, watching the snow fall.
It had only been a temporary truce in a year that had torn her apart, but it had been a moment of peace that she remembered. It had been the first moment when she had ever thought she could consider him as more than a friend. Of course he'd ruined it all later by accusing Crookshanks of eating that stupid rat, but the memory remained a happy one.
Since then, much to her dismay, the moments of irrational affection had become more frequent. Take today, why had she given him her roots? She could have let him suffer, but instead she'd been nice and now had to cope with a detention, all because he was staring at Lavender's chest like a moron.
She had to face it. Her hair was too bushy, her chest was too flat and her intelligence didn't make her more attractive to him. Her heart did a strange, painful flip-flop, and she scowled down at the page again, ignoring the fact that she felt like she wanted to cry. Ron had never given her any evidence of holding her in any regard. She was his friend and that was it…
Except that isn't it, is it? A traitorous voice in her mind whispered. What about the argument after the Yule Ball? What about his obvious jealousy over Viktor? What about…
The bell rang shrilly, blocking out her doubts and inner worries. She gaped around, unable to believe she'd been dwelling on snow and Ronald Weasley for an hour, and, more to the point, hadn't read more than a few lines of chapter twenty-two!
She shook her head and stuffed her book in her bag furiously. At least the chapters weren't relevant to base numbers. That was easy revision. Time consuming, but easy. She glanced at her watch and hurried out of the room, smiling at a couple of Ravenclaws as she squeezed past.
She took the stairs two at a time and arrived at the Fat Lady breathless. The woman, in her pink confection of a dress, smiled patiently as Hermione finally got enough air into her lungs to say, 'Codswallop.'
The portrait swung aside gracefully and the young witch clambered through the portrait hole before making a beeline for the table near the window. At least if she couldn't enjoy the snow she could be as close to it as possible.
She reached into her bag and took out her Potions book, removing the quill she had placed between its pages earlier. Ron had always expressed fascination at the fact that her feather pens rarely became ruffled or damaged, and that her parchment was never creased. All it took was an extra minute to pack her bag carefully. Boys just threw everything in and went. Of course they were going to end up with crumpled parchment if they chucked it in the bottom of their bag and then threw their potions cauldron on top of it!
She laid the smooth paper out on the table and reached for her inkpot before sitting down and getting comfortable. She loaded the quill and paused to collect her thoughts before she whispered, 'Three, two, one – go!'
Her father had always said she treated homework like a race, yet she rarely failed to include a suitable level of content to impress the teachers. They often commented on her mental capacity. If there was one thing Hermione could be praised for it was her mind. Unfortunately that seemed to be where the praise ended.
She let her pen fly across the page, her handwriting looping and curling neatly. She loaded the pen again and again, not noticing Ron and Harry enter ten minutes later. Once in a while she would pause and look at the fire as she collected her thoughts. She saw Ron wave a hand in front of her gaze, as though to try and attract her attention, but she smiled vaguely and continued to write.
She worked through dinner, graciously accepting what the boys brought up for her. She chewed through chips and chicken covered in bread crumbs, which were good finger food according to Ron. At least that way she didn't need to put her quill down.
Darkness had fallen outside, and the snow was only visible by the light shed from Hogwarts' many windows. There were no stars, and no moon shed its echo of light. It was perfect for a snowball fight ambush, or a quiet, peaceful walk. No such luck for her today though, no such luck at all.
'Hmmmm?' She didn't look up, but she did wince when Ron took a seat and her inkpot wobbled threateningly.
'Why did you do that in Potions?' Ron's voice was low, as though he didn't want to advertise the fact that she'd saved him from Snape's cruel and unusual punishments.
'That would have been the third detention in a week, Ron. If nothing else then I was thinking of your embarrassment when your mother sent you a Howler for behaving so badly in your sixth year. You should have grown out of that and become more responsible by now, you know.'
Ron stayed quiet for a moment, drumming his fingertips absently on the table. Hermione paused and looked up from her work, only to get a jolt of pleasant surprise when she saw that his eyes were looking right at her. His fingers had stopped pattering and he was staring at her so intently that she felt the unwelcome warmth of a blush start to creep up her face.
'What is it, have I got ink on my face?' she asked, wiping her left hand over her cheek.
Ron smiled and dug into his robe pocket pulling out a handkerchief. 'You have now. Left cheek, just below your eye. Unless its makeup, but I didn't think you wore that.'
Hermione accepted the square of cotton and licked the corner before scrubbing at her face. 'I don't, not on a day when we have Potions. If any of it gets into the cauldron it can really compromise whatever your trying to brew. The same goes for hair gel and things.' She handed the handkerchief back, resolutely ignoring the pleasant tingle that raced up her arm when her fingers brushed his. 'Look, I'm sorry, Ron, but did you want something? Only this essay is due in tomorrow, and I have detention in about five minutes.'
'I just wanted to say thank you.'
She smiled and said, 'You're welcome.'
For a minute it felt like what Ginny would call 'A moment.' It felt as though something was floating between them, something that was dying to be said. For a split second she considered saying something complimentary, but somehow she couldn't think of anything except "You have lovely eyes." And that sounded far too much like a trashy romance novel for her liking.
'I – I guess I'll let you get on with it then,' Ron said quietly. His voice seemed deeper and softer than usual, and Hermione began to realise that she was getting uncomfortably warm.
Ron moved to stand up, but as he did so he stumbled, his foot caught up in the straps of Hermione's satchel. He grabbed the table to stop himself from falling and upset the inkpot. The tide of dark ink spread rapidly across the table. Hermione jumped out of her chair, grabbed her books and quill to safety, but swore softly as her parchment, along with almost three feet of work on base numbers, became sodden in ink.
'Scourgify!' Ron pointed his wand at the table, forcing the ink to vanish under the simple cleaning spell. The wood remained undamaged, but Hermione's essay was beyond rescue. The absorbent paper had soaked up the ink in a matter of seconds.
Hermione shut her eyes, giving a soft groan of despair. All that work down the drain. Hours and hours of work. She should have been paying attention, not wondering what it would feel like to kiss Ron! Of all the stupid things to be thinking!
When she opened her eyes again it was to see Ron looking at her, and expression of near terror on his face.
'Hermione, I'm so sorry. I'm such an idiot. Is there – can I help, or something?'
Hermione took a deep calming breath and smiled carefully. 'Don't worry about it, Ron. It's just a little smudged, that's all. I'll see what I can do when I get back from detention.'
Ron froze, his forehead creasing into a frown of confusion. 'Just a little smudged? Hermione, I've ruined your essay, you've been working on it for hours!'
'It's all right. I can remember most of what I wrote, and I'll go to the library and see if I can find any stain removal spells. I really have to go.' When she saw the look on Ron's face she shook her head. 'Really, Ron, I'm not angry. Don't worry.'
As she turned to go she heard Ron sit down on the sofa and Harry say quietly, 'You do realise if it was anyone else who'd ruined her essay she'd have killed them, right?'
She hurried out of the portrait hole, cursing Harry and Ron in the same breath. Damn Ron for upsetting the inkpot, now all hope of walking in the snow was really out of the window, and damn Harry for being so observant.
If it had been him or Ginny she'd have been hard put not to blow up in their face, but Ron had caught her in a favourable mood and for the second time that day she'd been forgiving and downright kind. 'You're a stupid girl with a stupid crush!' she hissed to herself as she stormed down to the dungeons, her books and pens that she'd rescued from the impromptu flood of ink still clutched in her arms. 'Grow up and get over it. You should have stuck with Viktor, at least he wasn't clumsy.'
She arrived at Dungeon floor in a foul temper and almost retched at the smell. The odour seemed to be coming from a slick brown substance on the floor, and with an inward groan she realised what it was.
'Dragon dung, Miss Granger. I want every inch of this floor cleaned. I would try and manage this task before it dries. It sets like cement,' Snape muttered, his nose turned up in disgust as he motioned to the far corner of the room. 'You will find your tools over there.'
She turned to give him a calculating look. Did he think that a bit of Dragon doings was going to upset her sensibilities? She strode across the floor, careful not to slip on the filth, and put her books down on the teacher's desk before grabbing the mob and bucket and going to the tap.
When she looked up Snape had gone, leaving her in peace. Breathing through her mouth so as not to inhale the smell, she rolled her sleeves up and filled the bucket. As soon as it was full she threw the water across the floor, letting it drain away into the gutters and drains in the dungeon floors and take the worst of the foul smelling dirt with it.
She repeated this three or four more times, muttering to herself all the while. 'He's your friend, and you're just being hormonal. It's part of growing up, but you don't have time for it. You've got to study and work hard and stop thinking about the way he smiles, for Merlin's sake!'
The last bit was said quite loudly, and she bit her lip, glancing up at the door. No one had appeared to ask her about her sanity so she assumed that she was safe and continued her tirade in the privacy of her own head.
The mop slapped on the floor, wiping away the layers of grime as she cleaned the floor with positive determination, punishing herself for her own foolishness. 'He's going to start noticing,' she said aloud, her forehead wrinkling into a frown. 'If I keep behaving this way he'll notice something's wrong.' She couldn't let that happen. He'd run a mile and she'd have lost her best friend. She had to either pull herself together, or get over it. 'It's the snow,' she said to the dungeon at large. 'Christmas always does funny things to people. That's all it is.' She ignored the little voice that said it was only the beginning of December and Christmas was weeks away.
It took her another hour, but when she was done the floor practically shone. She washed her hands thoroughly at the sink and cleaned off the soles of her shoes before moving towards the desk. She went to pick up her books and froze, her eyes fixed on a bottle of Butterbeer on the desk, still warm and steaming softly in the cold dungeon. Next to it was a delicate red rose, the snowflakes on its petals only just starting to melt.
She reached out cautiously and picked it up, noticing a faint papery texture to it. Professor McGonagall had been teaching them how to transfigure paper flowers into real ones, and she was sure she held the result of such a spell in her hands.
Underneath it was a short hand-written note, the spidery scrawl easily recognisable.
"Meet me for a walk outside? I have something to show you.
Her heart thumped hard in her chest and she felt her throat constrict with panic. He knew something. Harry had told him that he thought she had a crush on him. He was going to tell her to back off and leave him alone…
Her fear trailed off as reason intercepted her train of thought. The Butterbeer was still warm, and the rose still had snowflakes on it. For a start these things had only just been placed here. Ron probably used Harry's invisibility cloak. Secondly, Harry might be a complete twit sometimes, but he had more tact and sense to tell Ron something like that. Besides, he said he wanted to show her something, not tell her something.
She took in a deep breath, glad that the room now smelled like citrus rather than Dragon muck, and began to collect her things. She was just despairing of how she was going to carry everything when she noticed her satchel, empty and waiting on the edge of the desk. She loaded everything into it carefully, apart from the rose and the Butterbeer.
At first she tucked the flower behind her ear, but once glance in the silver, reflective bottles on the shelves told her she looked stupid. In the end she tucked it carefully into her bag before taking a fortifying swig of the hot sweet beverage, and making her way to the front doors.
Professor Snape said nothing as she passed him in the corridor, and she hurried away, dreading being called back. When she reached the entrance hall she couldn't see Ron anywhere in sight, so with a shrug of her shoulders she pushed the door open and stepped out into the snow.
The flakes were still falling in a soft cascade, twirling down as though the stars themselves were falling to earth. Hermione breathed in the sharp, cold air and shut her eyes, holding her right hand out in front of her before stepping away from the castle and into the darkness.
She could feel the snow whirling around her and relished the brief absence of all her concerns. It was wonderful to be out here, surrounded and lost within nature itself. It could make her forget everything. Her identity, her worries, her fears were all swallowed up by the cold that swept through her robes. In that moment she wasn't just plain, intelligent Hermione, she was whoever or whatever she wanted to be. Minister of Magic, the best Auror in the world or Headmistress of the school behind her. She could be anything and do anything. There were no limits, not anymore…
Someone placed a hand gently on the one that was stretched out in front of her. The palm against the back of her hand was warm and slightly rough and the fingers stretched far beyond the length of her own, curling around to capture her hand gently in its grasp.
She opened her eyes and blinked in the light of Ron's wand. The castle was a distant shadowy bulk behind her, and the large a dark, silent shadow only a few paces in front of her. She and Ron stood in a perfect circle of silvery light, which ignited the snowflakes as they danced down to the ground.
'You wanted to show me something. I – I can't take long because I've got to do that essay.'
'Would you have come out here if I hadn't asked you?'
Ron's question took her by surprise and she withdrew her hand from where he still held it, choosing to nurse the warm Butterbeer bottle instead. 'Probably not. I don't really have the time anymore.'
'Don't you think some things are special enough to make the time for? I mean, it only does the first snow of winter once a year, and you nearly missed it because you saved my skin in Potions.'
His voice was filled with a soft and gentle gratitude, and Hermione ducked her face to hide a flush of embarrassment. 'About that – I was just being nice. I mean, because I'm your friend and everything.'
Ron smiled, the snow resting in his red hair and getting caught in his eyelashes as it began to fall more thickly. He didn't quite look as if he believed her. He also seemed a bit nervous. The hand that held his wand up was shaking slightly, sending the circle of light dancing.
'Are you cold?' Hermione asked, trying not to shiver herself.
'No, but you are. Here.' He unravelled his scarf and tossed it around her neck. It smelled of a mixture of fresh air and his shampoo. The scent tickled her nostrils as he wrapped it tightly around her neck, his knuckles brushing against her cheek before he reached into his robe pocket and pulled out a neat roll of parchment.
'Here. I thought I'd save you some hassle.'
Hermione unrolled it carefully. The parchment was clean and fresh, and there clear as day was her essay, in her own handwriting. The only thing missing was the conclusion, which she hadn't had time to write.
'How did you…?'
'I went to the library while you were in detention. Madam Pince followed me all the way around, like she thought I was going to smoke or something between the shelves!'
'Well you don't go in there very often.'
'I don't need to. I buy the text books; that's enough.' He grinned mischievously, no doubt expecting her to rise to the bait.
Hermione smiled and shook her head gently, putting the empty bottle of Butterbeer in her bag, careful not to crush the flower. She put the essay alongside and closed her bag, so as not to let the snow get in. 'Thank you, I suppose I owe you a favour.'
Ron raised an eyebrow and shook his head. 'You don't owe me anything, Hermione. It was my fault your essay was ruined, and my fault you got a detention. If anything I owe you something.'
The wind swirled around them, lifting snow from the ground and sending it dancing back through the air, a thousand different stars against the velvet of the night. Hermione felt that familiar warm feeling pool in her stomach and bit her lip. She had a choice. It was one of those moments where whichever way you took it could change the rest of your life. She could turn and walk back to the castle with Ron as her friend, but if she did would she always wonder what she could have had? Alternatively she could take a risk…
She stood on tiptoes and rested a hand on Ron's shoulder, pressing her lips to his cold cheek before withdrawing, breathless and frightened. 'Thank you, for the essay I mean. I suppose I'd better get back and finish that essay.'
She turned without a second glance, half running back towards the castle, away from the pool of light and back towards the castle. A tiny part of her hoped and prayed he would call out, or something, but mostly she was chastising herself for being idiotic.
'Wait.' His hand rested on her shoulder, his long strides having allowed him to catch up with her easily. She turned to face him, not daring to meet his eyes until he put a finger under her chin and lifted her face to his.
His lips brushed against hers tenderly, warm and soft. His breath mingled with hers for a moment before he stepped back, looking, for once, afraid. He held out a hand to her. 'Can't the essay wait, just for a while?'
Her lips were tingling with the memory of the kiss, and her face was suffused with warmth as her chest filled up with an exhilarated rush of feeling. It must have been reflected in her smile because Ron gave a shy grin, closing his hand around hers as she held it out.
She followed where he led, walking at his side. They talked in low voices, the snow crunching softly beneath their feet as they went. It was only when they finally went back into the castle and were forced to go their separate ways to bed that Hermione realised they'd been holding hands all along.
Ron squeezed her fingers gently, but didn't let go. A brief look of nervousness crossed his face before he cleared his throat and said quietly, 'Would you, I mean if you want, would you like to go into Hogsmeade? Just you and me, without Harry or Ginny or anyone?'
She must have looked confused because he rubbed his spare hand up the back of his neck and blushed. 'No, silly question. Never mind.'
'Wait, no. I'd love to. Is – is this a date, or just a friend thing?'
Ron grinned, the mischief back in his eyes as he moved closer to her and bent his head, brushing his lips softly, shyly against her own. 'A date would be nice. Goodnight, Hermione.'
She watched him climb the stairs to the dormitory and drew in a shuddering breath. She was dreaming; it wasn't real! This was Ron, infuriating, frustrating, lovely Ron. She sat down in the nearest chair, still not quite able to believe it.
With shaking hands and little attention she took her essay from her bag and scribbled a hasty conclusion. It was strange to think that only this morning he had only been her friend, and now…