If the renowned Hogwarts School of Magic and Sorcery has a thousand years of tradition, there is possibly another tradition that is even older than Hogwarts. In fact, it is probably as old as it was when the first boarding school that took in teenagers of both sexes for almost a whole year was set up.
Into the shadows, Ginny Weasley carefully scrutinized the last stretch of corridors to the staircase that finally led to the Gryffindor common room. A couple of hours ago the curfew had come into effect and now her only concern was to be able to reach the safety of the common room before some particularly fussy prefect, or worse, a teacher, discovered her returning late to her tower.
She had split up with her boyfriend Dean a while ago after a not too satisfying snogging session and her mood was particularly irritable.
Lately, things between the two of them haven't been working out as they should for a couple of girl and boyfriend. She was aware that there was an imbalance in the relationship. She liked Dean, that was indisputable and she would never have agreed to have a relationship if there was even the slightest interest on her part.
It was one thing to have a very satisfying intense and passionate snogging session in the heat of the moment and quite another to maintain a relationship with another person with nothing more than the purely physical. Not that she was against it. In fact, some of her classmates had that kind of relationship, "a term flirt", they called it. The kind that start a few weeks into the school year and end up back home for the summer holidays with some of the Hogwarts Express carriage suspiciously isolated from the rest with silencing spells, door locks and a few imperturbable ones too. It was simply that this type of relationship was not for her and the point was as time passed, the relationship with Dean seemed to slide dangerously towards that way.
She was fully aware that Dean was the one most emotionally involved in that relationship. In fact, Ginny was beginning to suspect that Dean was genuinely falling in love with her, and while it was true that she was attracted to the bloke, it was even more true that she was nowhere near as attracted to him same way.
To make matters worse, Dean was developing a somewhat overprotective feelings about her and, without intending to, was overwhelming her with all his solicitous displays of attention. She knew that he didn't mean to do it on purpose, but for a country girl who had to deal with six older brothers, two of whom were the biggest and most terrible pranksters in the history of the school, another who had the dubious honour of being the biggest blind stubborn who ever walked the face of the earth, one leading member of Dumbledore's army, one sneaky fighter in the mystery department and owner of the most terrifying bat-bogey hex known, all those attentions were, to put it mildly, a pain in the ass.
To add to all this the growing, even at the end of February, level of anxiety that every fifth year student experiences as the dates for the OLWs tests approach, the initial appreciation that Ginny's mood was particularly irritable tends to fall short and, if by the hands of the devil, we add as the last ingredient to the potion the Weasley name and its legendary explosive temperament, it is not necessary to have an NEWT in potions to discover that we are faced with the perfect elaboration of the "Weasley Wrath" potion trademark and, only a fool, a suicidal, a desperate person or someone absolutely unaware of the delicate boil that was cooking in the small body of the redhead, would think of taking it out of the pot.
Ginny Weasley wasn't the only one wandering the halls at that hour. Also on the way to the common room, Hermione Granger was returning from one of her lonely prefect patrols. For months now, she had avoided patrolling with the other prefect of Gryffindor, so she simply left the common room early and made an erratic patrol of the castle in a desperate attempt not to find him in her path. If she had met him or anyone else, they would have immediately noticed her swollen eyelids, her red eyes and the soft sob that escaped from her mouth. Normally she would try to hide these already constant features on her face through some make-up, glamorous charms, impeccable uniformity and an apparent indifference to what was going on around her, but today she was too hurt, despondent and tired to realize her real look.
Having spent more than half of her shift in a secluded corner blowing off steam in her crying, all she wanted was to reach the quiet of her bed, cast an imperturbable spell and keep crying until the tiredness overtook her and she fell asleep.
It had been months since Ronald Weasley had started dating Lavender Brown and contrary to what might have been expected, the pain of heartbreak had not diminished one iota, quite the contrary. As the weeks passed, it was manifesting itself in all its majestic and vileness.
It was simply agony!
Her daily routine had become an unconscious attempt to avoid him for any means. Waking up even earlier, skipping meals, going to classroom for unusual routes, prolonging her library study hours beyond what was customary there to her. . . every conceivable means had been used by her to avoid him, but it had not been enough. Somehow, as always with Ron, it was never enough.
She couldn't avoid him completely, whether it was in classroom, in the common room, at her frugal meals or even in the library, where he would go when he had no choice but to complete his schoolwork and even though she tried so hard not to notice him when he was in those risk areas, it was so unlikely that she thought the expression "ignoring the elephant in the room" was an understatement and should be replaced for "ignoring the Ronald in the room", because a redheaded lighthouse more than six feet high was frankly impressive and even harder to avoid.
To her greatest misery, where her brain was plotting escapes, her treacherous heart longed to see the one responsible for her misery and more than once she surprised herself looking for in the direction she knew the insufferable redhead was. The problem was that usually the image her hungry eyes encountered was not that of a lonely, bucolic Ron pining for her, but of a nasty Ronald Bilius Weasley who seemed to have attached with a permanent Sticking Charm to Lavender Brown's mouth.
Those were the worst times for Hermione, except for the nights when these images of constant kissing were repeated incessantly and while part of she was disgusted and nauseous at such sexual display, it was no less true that another part of she, most of she to be honest, desperately wanted to tear Lavender from her face and transfigure her into a couch on which to throw Ron so that she could measure his tonsils with her own tongue. That was the moment when the tears came to his eyes uncontrollably and the need to take refuge somewhere isolated arose.
So, the lonely prefect rounds were in a way a blessing and a curse.
Blessing because she was allowed to hide in any of the school's classrooms where she could vent her tears sometimes, sometimes with a brief burst of anger. Curse, because in the lonely rooms of the castle, that was when her brain was at its most tortured and that night, the memories had been particularly painful.
Without pretending to rejoice in her grief, she had gone back in time, remembering the happy moments with Ron, especially after the incident, saved by the skin of her teeth, from the Mystery Department. Even before, she had felt that something was changing in their relationship as friends, as for example, when she discovered that Ron had given her a bottle of perfume, but it had never been so evident until after the disastrous raid that had taken Sirius ´life.
The point was that ever since she woke up with the ugly scar on her chest, she shuddered at the memory, Ron had been with her all the time, comforting her and even, in a moment of weakness she had, making her feel that the imprint had not diminished in any way how beautiful she might look to a man. Quite the opposite. It was proof that she was a brave woman willing to face any manifestation of injustice and evil and if any man was not able to see it, then he would not be worthy of her love.
"If I knew a woman who was willing to fight like that for me. . .", he had started with a dreamy look, "...I'd be in love with her forever and someday I'd make her my wife". Causing her to fall on his own arse if she hadn't been lying on one of the beds in the school infirmary wing, at the same time that she becomes a puddle of drool.
She had barely been able to stop herself from grabbing his shirt, drawing him in front of her and facing his eyes, telling him:
There's one who's been fighting for you since the bloody second year and you still haven't noticed, you stupid idiot! and then kissed him like there's no tomorrow.
Instead, she'd babbled something unintelligible, burst into moan, and then she'd taken refuge in his chest and burst into tears.
Great, Hermione! She thought as she banged her head repeatedly against the nearest wall. You had your chance on a silver platter and you chose that moment to show yourself as a weak, crying damsel. You are mum Myrtle pride.
Previous times, during the summer, she had gone to The Burrow like so many others and had to admit that there had been a change in Ron's behaviour. Somehow, he seemed to be more solicitous of her without that meaning the end of his usual discussions. It simply seemed as if it was easier for them to be together without provoking each other for trivial matters, at least until "Fleeeerg" with her stunning beauty and "teggific" accent, made her presence felt in the vicinity, at which point Ron seemed to be slightly dazed and in spite of everything, she had to admit that this daze lasted for only a moment before he pulled himself together. Sometimes Hermione helped him with a particularly hard and cruel slap, on the other hand very satisfying for her, on the back of his neck. Anyway, his reactions to Fleur's presence weren't more that a brief stunned. Just the opposite to the pitiful sight of the fourth year.
In short, his behaviour in the hospital wing, The Burrow and the first months of the term at Hogwarts did not bode well for what was to come. In fact, she thought they were taking steps in the right direction until after she invited him to Professor Slughorn's party and perhaps that was the final reason she felt so broken. She had been brushing against happiness with her fingertips so close that she could almost feel it and suddenly found herself touching. . . nothingness.
Thus she was immersed in her own reflections and returning to the stairs leading to the Gryffindor Tower when she seemed to perceive the movement of a shadow lurking in the darkness of the corridors.
Surely if she had been sufficiently rested and clear-minded her reaction could have been better, but for someone who is personally, emotionally exhausted, and with Hermione Granger's history of unpleasant encounters, this was perfectly understandable:
It had been like suddenly hitting an invisible wall. Convinced that the path between her hiding place and the stairs leading to her target was free of obstacles, she had launched herself into a swift race towards the stairs and, at a stroke, bounced back.
If the initial impact had been brutal, falling to the cold, hard floor of the school in an uncontrolled manner had not been a piece of cake either, but if she had learned anything from her recent fight it was that pain could wait. Because in the time it takes to complain about the wounds, a spell with very, very bad intentions can go after you and that is definitely much worse than the pain itself. So as soon as she had finished bouncing around on the floor of the corridor, she threw herself to the side as she wielded her wand to confront her assailant and found herself facing another wand, behind which were astounded and very familiar brown eyes.
"Her. . . Hermione?"
They were both so bewildered that they forgot to lower their respective wands, which continued to point at each other like a mournful omen, until the prefect of Gryffindor surrendered hers while offering her other hand to help the friend with the sore arse.
"For God's sake, Ginny", she scolded her as he helped her up. "You scared me to death. What are you supposed to be doing at this hour outside your bedroom lurking in the school halls?" She finished.
"Oh! I don't know", accepting help meanwhile she rubbed her bruised arse with her other hand and giving her friend an unfriendly look, the redhead's response was not long in coming. "Maybe wait until a hot wand witch was encouraged to use me as a target for her shooting practice", she said sarcastically.
"You know that's not what I'm asking you, Ginny". Hermione ignored the little voice at the back of her head which told her to answer with the same irony, an instinctive reflex, and the fruit of the continuous and biting training that she practiced daily with the youngest of Ginny's brothers.
That was before, she corrected herself. We are even talking to each other anymore, she told herself and after all, Ginny was her best friend. The one who had been supporting her in her worst moments making imaginative descriptions of her stupid brother to try and cheer her up.
"Okay, okay. I've been spending some time with Dean", she explained as she dusted off his uniform. "Far from prying eyes, Hermione. Is that good enough for you, or would you prefer me to give you more details about our business?" She ended up with a smile that had nothing innocent about it.
"Save me the nauseating details please, I have just finished my dinner and I would like to keep it inside my stomach, thank you very much."
A nasty expression was drawn on her face and the youngest Weasley didn't know for sure if it was more fake than real. What if it was completely real is, that it was the most blatant lie Hermione Granger had ever told her.
"Hermione". She paused for a brief moment thinking of how to approach the subject. "I didn't actually see you in the big dining room during dinner so, I'm wondering if you had anything to eat?"
"Well. . . er. . . me. Yes". . . She stuttered. "I was actually late while completing my homework, so when I realized this, I spent a moment in the kitchens while making my rounds."
"Hermione. . ."
All right, the gentle approach didn't seem to yield the desired result, so it was time to tighten the screws a bit. Ginny had a genuine concern about Hermione's health. She was aware of how little she ate and of the use of glamorous charms on herself. Not for nothing, she had been her only real friend and confidant.
"Hermione, don't try to hide it", her voice took on a tone of harshness necessary to provoke her friend reaction. Hermione tended to ignore all the negative things said about her and the requirements that displeased her. That doesn't mean it didn't hurt, like when Draco Malfoy constantly insulted her, but making a habit of it, she tended not to give it much of her attention at the moment.
"It's because of my arse of a brother, isn't it?"
The prefect's expression of pain and the sinking of her shoulders confessed exactly what Ginny had suspected.
"Hermione, this has to stop now", she continued, looking into her eyes. "He is a perfect prat, we know it but, look at yourself. Your eyes look like they've fallen victim to the conjunctivitis curse and you've been crying so much that even the tiny amount of makeup you do wear got smeared'. You don't eat. You don't rest. I doubt you're even getting enough sleep. You can't keep hiding it with glamour charms. You have to talk to him."
"I don't have anything to talk to that. . . that. . . lubricious dog", Hermione said, her body went rigid at the mere suggestion of talking to Ron. Under no circumstances would she stoop to talking to him.
"Hermione…" Ginny was patient enough to confront her friend. Sometimes she was surprised at how damned stubborn she could be and how much she and Ron were alike in that. "Right now you're being miserable and stupid too. Yes; stupid. Don't look at me like that", she defended herself when the brunette frowned at her. "Think about it. Since you stopped talking to him, you don't have him like your couple or like your best friend anymore.
This does not mean that you have stopped nursing a broken heart, or that have you forgotten him. You've closed off any chance you might have had from making him realise he's a right tool for dating Lavender because he can't already to notice how extraordinary you are. How's he going to notice if you aren't anywhere near him?
Ginny knew it was her turn to tell a big lie. Ron already knew how extraordinary Hermione was. During the summer holidays of the fourth year, Voldemort's return had been a constant topic in family conversations, but the other big topic had been Ron's monologues explaining how damned cool Hermione was and that a certain Bulgarian "pumpkin head" didn't deserve her at all. They used to end with the twins placed one on each side of a red Ronald in rage, while imitating a pair of languid-looking violinists, playing a romantic tune.
"Don't go down that road, Ginevra. As far as I'm concerned, your brother has ceased to exist. I'm not going to let him keep hurting me one way or another", Hermione interrupted her as she proudly raised her chin and passed a sleeve of his school sweater over her face to clean it. "He was the one who started treating me like dragon dung after I invited him to the Slughorns party and I don't even know why. I can't remember anything I could have offended him about and I don't care anymore. As far as I'm concerned, he can take Lavender and do whatever he likes with her."
Ginny could hear the tremor in Hermione's voice when she made her last statement, but she couldn't tell her that not for a moment had she managed to fool her with that bombastic claim that she didn't care at all what Ron and Lavender did together, because a feeling drowned out her own voice. A feeling called. . . remorse.
"In fact. . ." Her words escaped in a whisper from between her lips as her gaze rested on her own shoes.
Hermione stopped her walk when she saw Ginny to stop. Even through the veil of tears that covered her eyes, she could sense that something was wrong with Ginny.
"Ginny, what. . . ?"
"In fact", She took every ounce of courage to lift her eyes off the ground to face her friend's, knowing that what was coming now would have frightening, unknown, and possibly disastrous consequences. "I think you should know that not Ron's entire fault."
For months, Ginny had been carrying guilt about what happened between Hermione and her brother. She knew that Ron had processed in the worst possible way the information that she had let slip. No doubt her passionate brother was ultimately responsible for the entire aftermath, yes, but there was no denying that her indiscretion had been the trigger for everything that had happened afterwards.
"Ginny. What do you mean?" Something shook in Hermione's gut. Something dark and slimy, like a premonition that something terrible was coming, something that made her afraid to know the answer.
"Hermione… you see… a few months ago Harry surprised me when I was snogging Dean behind a tapestry."
"Well". For a moment she hoped that that awful feeling of apprehension was just her imagination. "I don't think Harry liked that very much and I understand that you felt uncomfortable, but I don't understand how. . ." but when she saw Ginny Wesley's serious face, that hope vanished like sea foam.
"Ron was with him."
A freezing cold ran down Hermione Granger's spine, making her wince while her heart seemed to have missed a beat.
"Wh-what else happened, Ginny?"
"Ron… well, you know how overprotective he is… he burst into a speech about my reputation, what everyone would think of me, and practically called me a scarlet slut". Ginny blushed furiously as she remembered the whole incident. "I finally told him there was nothing wrong with it. I made fun of him that he wished Fleur would kiss his cheek and that his best kiss had come from Aunt Muriel". Her voice seemed to raise an octave at a time as she was telling it, as if the memory were recreating the anger she felt against her meddlesome brother at that moment. "That everyone was doing it and enjoying it except him. I teased him and told him, if he kissed Pigwidgeon, Harry kissed Cho, and you. . ." Ginny was interrupted at that moment when she realized the look full of pain and betrayal that Hermione was giving her with all her intensity.
"Say it, Ginevra Weasley". An acidic poison filtered through her words as she waited for the statement that would confirm what her heart already knew.
"You kissed Viktor", she finished, in a whisper.
And there it all was. Hermione felt her eyes fill with tears as her tiny body shook with rage. The ultimate reason for her broken heart and her pain, for her frustration and her bitterness, for the caresses and kisses that were denied her and given to another, for the worst months of her live in short, was finally before her.
Feeling the bile rise in her throat she began to turn around to run to a toilet where she could vomit when she felt her elbow being caught as she listened:
"Hermione, I. . . I'm sorry."
That was already more than he could bear.
"Are you sorry? You, who call yourself my best friend, do you feel sorry?" For months she had been containing all her feelings of pain, resentment and hate under a seemingly flawless facade, but Ginny's confession had caused a rift and all that steam that had now found a weak spot was uncontainable. "And what exactly are you sorry for, Ginny? Are you sorry you didn't tell me so I could have tried to fix it at the time? Or are you sorry you to stole my hope and my chance for happiness? Or maybe are you sorry you didn't keep Dean's tongue inside your big mouth and avoid destroying everything", she said as he trembled with anger and pain, feeling the magic crackling between her fingers, asking for permission to claim her wand and curse the redheaded traitor.
"You knew how I felt about your brother", her face reddened with pure fury, as her eyes filled with the tears of broken hope. "You knew I was afraid of how Ron would react if he found out about Viktor. I begged you, I pleaded with you to keep it a secret", her voice began to break. "I supported, comforted and suggest you when you were a nervous wreck with Harry. I defended you so that your brothers would not leave you behind and take you out of danger like a weak little girl unable to defend herself. I put my heart in your hands and my trust in your silence and you… you betrayed it all because you couldn't control your temper when they stopped you having a goddamn shag with your boyfriend?"
Okay. Hermione had overstepped the mark. Ginny wasn't a Weasley for nothing. She understood that she was broken by the pain, but it was also true that she needed to learn something and, by Merlin! She was going to learn it! Even if it meant casting a full-body binding spell on her! The pain and remorse for the involuntary betrayal of her friend was not the only thing on Ginny Wesley's conscience. There was also something else, and it was time to bring it out into the open.
"It was your fault that you and Ron never got anywhere too, Granger! I'm sorry, but that was". Hermione felt as if the previous insult had been added to a slap. Not only was the charge harsh, but Ginny had used her last name, something that only happened when she was particularly angry. She wanted to answer, but she didn't have time to reply before the temperamental redhead started talking again without taking her eyes off the stunned prefect.
"Do you ever really wonder why he's with Lavender and not with you? Have you ever really tried to put yourself in his shoes to understand what he saw in her or what she offered him and that you never gave him?"
Hermione felt again the taste of bile rise in her throat and only the anger that burned inside her like hellfire prevented her from vomiting right there.
"Sex! That hooker is shagging him. . ." escaped between her teeth in a hiss so low and so loaded with hate and contempt that it seemed pure poison.
"For Merlin's beard!" Hermione was surprised to find Ginny who rolled her eyes in obvious disbelief. "Do you really think Ron's with her because they're fucking like rabbits, Hermione? Merlin! I knew Ron was a tough cookie, but I think you could give him a run for his". Her eyes fell back on the increasingly stupefied, frizzy-haired witch.
"And, when were they supposed to start 'copulating', Hermione?"Ginny made an obscene gesture with both hands and a finger. "He was stuck with you from the time the course started until the day you decided to stop talking to him. You shared classes; you shared patrols around the school. He had the quidditch training sessions. When he was in the common room he was joking or slaughtering Harry at chess and when it was neither of those things, he was with you in the library begging you to help him with his homework. So unless he has a time-turner or is sneaking out at night, can you tell me what time of day he takes to sneak out and to shagging Lavender into the wall?" Ginny thought her explanation had made the point, but as she watched the brunette's frown grow into a gesture of intense concentration she could not help but be horrified.
"I can't believe it!" She raised her arms to the incredulous sky. "You're really considering what I said? Well, I have to tell you something, genius! Two people are needed for that activity. Did you ever see Lavender mysteriously disappear before all this mess and, come back dishevelled, with hickeys or looking appropriately fucked?"
Ginny was reassured to see the light of sanity in Hermione's eyes again, but this was quickly replaced with a deep sadness that obscured her gaze.
"So, if it wasn't the sex, I don't know what you mean, Ginny. I understand what he sees in her. Lavender is everything I'm not physically, but I've been her friend since first year. I thought he would appreciate that much more."
Ginny's disbelief in Hermione's blindness was reaching cosmic proportions.
"Exactly! That's what he sees. To a woman who offers him the attention of a friend and sometimes less than that. He has never seen from you any attention or, Merlin, not so much as a compliment' that reflects more than friendship for him, Hermione!" she spat while the other girl seemed to look like a victim of a stunning spell, but Ginny pressed on, determined not to give Hermione any chance to replicate.
"You never told him he was worth it! A mention at the end of the third year after Sirius broke his leg, and little else! Never as quidditch player. Damn it! You didn't even see him in his victory last year, when he was the star of the game without being, for once, under Harry's shadow, grounded by the disgusting toad. No. You left with Hagrid. You ignored him again. He understands you putting him behind Harry, but Hagrid? For Merlin's sake, Hermione", the temperamental redhead put her hands on her hips, meanwhile she went back to her bewildered friend again. "You've seen his performance in DA. He's the best duellist after Harry. He only fails when he's confronted with you. The poor jerk is not even able to hold his wand properly when he has your image in front of him. . ." a mischievous smile slips on Ginny's face for the first time. . . "in your presence, at least."
Hermione's jaw dropped and her eyes opened wide as a furious blush covered her cheeks at the prying comment of the meddling sister, and her heart seemed to go crazy in her chest when she wonders what she meant and one, not at all honest, image of Ron "wand in hand" seems to venture into her mind, causing a shudder in her belly.
But before she can revel in it, the truce given by the youngest of the Weasleys concludes.
"Did you ever tell him he was a good wizard? No; not like a friend, not like a partner, but a WIZARD. Did you ever really fight for him?"
Ginny was sorry. It really pained her to yell at her best friend that way, especially when she saw Hermione's face in pain. It was one thing to launch an offense of the moment and quite another to proceed with a full-blown assault, but it was too late. A dam had been broken and the torrent was already uncontrollable, moreover. Some things needed to be said and done, no matter how much they might hurt and perhaps make them look.
"Lavender did it! She noticed a wizard she liked, she found him funny, she found him fanciable, handsome, worthy of being shown off as her boyfriend and who knows what else in my dumb brother, and she showed her! That's why you lost him. Because you drowned in your own insecurity and fed his! And it won't be because you didn't have more than one warning!" Her eyes narrowed as she stared at her know-it-all friend.
"Do you really think that Padma Patil, proud Ravenclaw and one of the most beautiful girls in the whole school, didn't have other suitors for the Yule Ball? Or... Are you seriously going to argue that you didn't notice how Luna was staring at him all of last year?
It was as if Hermione had been hit with a stinging spell. Of course! She had noticed the sustained glances the grey-eyed blonde had given Ron and the conversations she seemed to be looking for when the meeting was over. Although compared to what she felt against Lavender it was a trifle, that time was definitely when she felt the green-eyed monster establish a permanent camp in his heart.
"You can be thankful that he's completely clueless, or he could've ended up giving his heart to someone a long time ago", she said with a suggestive eyebrow.
"But no. You decided to stay in no-man-land, with no initiative, ignoring warnings. Perhaps thinking… no, hoping… that no one else would notice him. Obviously, he won't have a second look from Madame Rosmerta right now and you might even find it comical to remember the Yule Ball incident with Fleur, but if you took a moment to reflect on who Fleeeeeerg's fiancé is, you might find out what another Weasley looks like", she said with an eyebrow raised again as one of the corners of his mouth seemed to rise in a mocking smile. "Maybe if she hadn't met Bill and Ron had gotten a couple more years to grow up. . . Well, Gabrielle is a Delacour too, is veela too and she's pretty cute, don't you think?" Ginny's smile looked awfully similar to George and Fred's when they were preparing some of their shenanigans against Ron. "Really I don't know, though. After all, my brother seems to have a thing for women "older..." with her fingers, she simulated the quotation marks"...that him."
If Hermione's brain seemed to have been blocked with the information overload, her heart, which had seen all the signs! It seemed to have been used as the model in one of Professor McGonagall's classes and transformed into an angry hummingbird that buzzed in her chest protesting that it'd been silenced for so long and shouting I told you so!
"Maybe, deep down, you're still seeing the eleven-year-old boy you met on the train", Hermione's shoulders sank in resignation, "and you didn't realize that boy is long gone! Someone's here! Someone claimed him as her own! And now, you're learning the lesson he learned in fourth year: that one day someone could come along and take him away from you... FOREVER."
That had been overwhelming. Hermione felt as if she had been caught in an avalanche and it was dragging her helplessly down the mountain, unable to resist its uncontrollable power.
"B. . . Bu..." she stuttered as she tried to pull herself together. "But I… I gave him clues. I invited him to Professor Slughorn's party; I kis... kissed him before the game. . ."
"On the cheek, damn it!" Ginny blew up, interrupting her. "Like if he was just a brother or a baby boy!"
"He hasn't ever implied that he has any other interest in me", her voice fell in a whisper that did not even seem to have the strength to convince herself. "H... He called me a nightmare once."
"Merlin's beard, Hermione! He was an eleven-year-old boy who was overwhelmed by a girl who had read and memorized all the books of the first year before starting school and who in her first class of spells, casted a perfect spell on her first attempt when she didn't even know she was a witch until three months before."
"Is that it, then?" If there was a daze before, it was now as if she were in the presence of a boggart facing her worst fears. "He thinks he must be with a pureblood because I am a freak who should have been a pitiful witch for being mugg-muggleborn and..." Her thoughts died on her lips when she suddenly found herself at the other side of Ginny's wand.
"Don't even complete that sentence, Granger," Ginny's face had become so red that it was practically purple. "Don't even think about completing it", she hissed. "Ron may be too blind to see what's right in front of his eyes, but I won't have you insulting my brother like that". Her voice is practically vibrating with wrath. "You didn't see him completely devastated at your bedside after the raid on the mystery department, nor when he came, every night! To watch over you when the basilisk petrified you, back in your second year!", Hermione's eyes open wide as a moan escapes her chest at the revelation, but the redhead is not finished with her.
"Did you know he confronted McGonagall and Mrs Pomfrey when they wanted to force him to stop visiting you? That he fought a giant spider for you? Don't you remember when he spent an afternoon throwing up slugs for you? Yeah. He may be a more of an oblivious prat than anyone else I know, but his heart has always been in the right place. Maybe the problem is that there's more than oblivious prat round here."
"You always told him that Krum was just a friend, but you never told him that you did NOT love Viktor and you didn't know or didn't want, to caught him between the rock and the wand and ask him: Why are you jealous? and force him to confess. With all the stupid fights you have all the time! The most important was the one you didn't provoke it, when you know, Ron works best with a direct approach and is very insecure under the shadow of his brothers, but there are more so".
"Your pride got the better of you and you never told him you were Krum's Yule's Ball partner. If you had told him, he might have had more time to deal with it. But you didn't. Without wanting to, you rubbed it in his face and you never stopped to think that when he saw you on Krum's arm, before the jealousy, he must have felt that you didn't trust him."
"You didn't realize, I'll give you that", she raised her hand before Hermione can even hear the whole sentence, "you were always comparing him to Harry. . . Harry, the handsome one. . . Harry, who grew up so much last summer. . . Harry, with his manly scars. . . Harry, the bloke... Harry, the fanciable one. . . Harry, the great teacher. . . Harry, who kissed Cho "in a more than satisfactory way. . . Harry, who you never accused of being an insensitive wart or of having the emotional range of a teaspoon. . . even though Harry is as blind and made the same mistakes, if not bigger, about girls, as Ron", the redhead's voice broke for one moment.
"Yes. You invited him to Professor Horace's party, but do you remember how you did it? You didn't tell him that you want to go with him, but, that guests were allowed to bring companions and that you had planned to invite him. How do you think that sounded to him? Perhaps, like an act of mercy towards the mediocre friend of The Chosen One and The most brilliant witch of her generation, The Slug Club's honour guests?" Ginny questioned Hermione with a look. "You told me how excited you were to have quality time with him at Grimmauld Place before Harry came, remember? You told me and only because I had you over a barrel, but did you ever tell him? How happy you were to be able to share some quality time, you with him? Have you realized that he always invited you to our home, but you never invited him to yours?"
"And finally", Ginny's pupils were so high that it looked like her eyes were going to roll back on themselves, "the icing on the cake. Instead of telling him he wouldn't have needed the Felix potion, because you were sure he would be able to play an extraordinary game on his own, you attacked him for using it. A perfect continuation of what happened in the summer before fifth year. Who was elected prefect, Hermione? It was Harry, wasn't it?"
Hermione felt as if a stone had been tied to her feet and thrown into the coldest dungeon. Ginny had laid out the facts in a cold, one-on-one manner, as if she were a court prosecutor giving her an overview she had never acknowledged before. But of all that, what hurt her most, it was the mention of Ron's prefecture. She would have been happy to give up her soul in order to correct that terrible mistake and, even then, the implacable redhead did not seem to have finished with her.
"And you can still be thankful he doesn't know what you did with McLaggen in the keeper trials". As soon as she heard her, she was no longer hopelessly abandoned in a dirty dungeon, but her hands were tied behind her back, a bag was placed over her head and she was thrown into the sea as she sank irretrievably into an abyss that did not allow her to breathe. "Harry just used a mind trick on him. He made him to think he was invincible because Harry had cheated, but. . . YOU DID IT! Can you imagine what it'd do to his self-esteem if he found out about that? That would make him see that you see him as useless. Like a snotty baby who needs to be helped to walk, unable to do anything good by himself. . ."
"IT'S A ROTTEN LIE!" The burst of the heartbreaking scream gave way to uncontrollable crying. The grief that had gradually set in Hermione's chest could no longer be contained and she could no longer bear it. "It has never been like that", a whiny whisper escaped her lips before she put her hands over her face and felt herself falling to her knees on the cold stone.
"It's never been like this." If seeing Ron with Lavender had been like having her heart ripped out of her chest, Ginny had ripped her soul out like a dementor leaving her hollow, empty inside. In the last remnants of her sanity she wondered if all the Weasley siblings had the gift of cruelty.
"He's extraordinary". She sobbed. "He doesn't realize it, but he is and that frustrates me so much", she confessed. "He doesn't realize it, but I see it. I've been watching it ever since I saw that long and gawky redheaded guy with dirt on his nose. He was adorable when he tried to do magic with Pettigrew trying to turn him yellow. Why do you think it hurt me so much to be called a nightmare, when I had been called worse things in my old muggle school?"
Now the surprise had changed sides and it was the redheaded Weasley who was left with her eyes wide open as she felt the longing in her friend's voice.
"Because it was him who told me!" She almost screamed, raising her face to the sky to confront her inquisitor. "I wouldn't have cared if the insult came from anyone else! I was already ignoring the "know-it-all", "cactus-head" and "beaver-toothed" comments that some were giving me, but I didn't care about him. I wanted to be his friend. His friend! That's why I was willing to lie to McGonagall!"
The crying had finally stopped and as she focused her inflamed, red eyes on her best friend, they began to glow with the passion behind them.
"Do you really think I don't see the kind of extraordinary wizard. . .? NO!" She interrupted herself and there was real pride in her voice now.
"Not because he's wizard! It would be exactly the same if he were muggle. Do you think I don't see the kind of extraordinary MAN he's meant to be as long as he has a little more confidence in himself?" She had raised her chin now when pride in her best friend had surged over her chest threatening to pop the buttons on her shirt while, the vocal inflection she imprinted when she referred to him as man made a chill run down Ginny's back from the back of her neck to where her back loses its honest name.
No. That was not desire only. It was much more! It was a wild wish. Primary and possessive like the predator that stalks its prey. Ginny had no doubt that if at that moment her carefree brother had turned up there; despite her anger, despite her spite, Hermione would have cornered him against the wall and ridden him like a wild beast marking him as her own forever, and yet the temperamental redhead grasped something else. Underneath that entire wish, there was something else. Something she knew but had never understood in its fair measure until then.
A love so immeasurable and desperate that it could consume all the lives that Hermione Jean Granger could live.
"Do you think I haven't seen how loyal he is? Do you think I don't see the gratitude he professes for Harry since he chose him over Malfoy before he was classified?" Hermione had lost all inhibition and stood proudly on the ground. She had been accused without knowing the fullness of her feelings for Ron. Good. So be it. In return, she would bare her soul and burn everyone who saw it with the burning radiance of her love for him.
"Ronald would be able to go down to hell with one arm tied behind his back if Harry asked him to. Yes, that's right. I didn't know about the acromantula affair or his confrontation with the teachers, but knowing that doesn't change what I feel, because that's not the fear that nests in my heart. No", she said as she nodded her head. "My terror is not to know what or how many more times he's done it. I saw him standing front of Sirius, battered, bleeding, with a broken leg,... no wand and willing to be an insurmountable wall between Harry and me. Willing to drop dead rather than let him pass", his proud pose now cracks and for a moment his body trembles, but she pulls herself together. Her face hardens again and her gaze returns to her best and most painfully sincere friend.
"No Ginevra. That's not what grips my heart and squeezes it like a black claw. I am not afraid of all he has done, because he has done it, it is past and now he is here, safe and with me. What terrifies me is what he will do", an atom of understanding appears in the eyes of the redhead what is quickly replaced with fear when she comes to understand all the consequences of Hermione's point. "I know it. One day he'll come between me and a deadly curse and he will be taken from me by it, Ginny. He'll be ripped away from me and there's nothing I can do to stop him". There was so much love in Hermione's eyes, so much devotion, so much pride and so much despair that Ginny's heart trembles as she notices the moisture flooding her own eyes.
"And I don't need that to love him. I used to do it before all that. It just makes me love him even more. With such intensity and such desperation that it hurts Ginny. It really hurts". Tears now roll freely down both women's faces.
"Do you think I don't know that he sees himself as stupid, ignorant and mediocre in everything? But I've seen him beat McGonagall when he was twelve. I have seen him develop a brilliant strategy to protect Harry and me with the cost of his own life on a deadly chessboard", again her voice trembled, as she relived in her mind that horrible scene of Ron being brutally beaten by the queen while for the second time, the youngest of the Weasleys regretted opening her big mouth and how similar she was to her closest brother.
"You're saying I don't realize his magical abilities? That, I can't see that he's with the same level as Harry? But have you noticed how much better a wizard he is than I am?" Hermione has a dark satisfaction in watching Ginny's wide open eyes. She, who has accused her of despising her brother, is not innocent of the same sin.
"He hardly studies. He falls asleep in all the history of Magic classes, is always late to write his essays. . . So what? He is able to perform any spell once he has seen the technique; he doesn't even need to study it. I can't see it before, but I understood it at the end of last year. He doesn't give a damn about any data or magic that has no practical application. Now he causes hilarity because in class of transformations he invoked a huge moustache when the spell failed", a sad smile comes to her face when she remembers the scene. "But when he finds out how useful they can be in hiding from the Deatheaters, to do body transformations will be like breathing for him". Hermione pauses for a moment, as if needing to rearrange his thoughts after his vehement exposure, and on his serious face, an ironic smile is drawn.
"So, how did he feel overwhelmed by me when I levitated a quill at Professor Flitwick's class?" And now it was the fire of defiance that burns in her eyes when she turns to Ginny.
"He used 'Wingardium Leviosa' to knock out a mountain with its own club in the middle of a combat to death" And just in that moment, Ginevra Molly Weasley realized that in front of her was not a haughty Hermione Jean Granger, but the still unconscious Ron Weasley's wife in fiery and proud vindication of her husband.
"The only problem is his damn insecurity", there was a hint of sadness in her voice now. "He feels so inadequate under the shadow of all of you that, God! Sometimes I feel in my fingers the magic to curse all of you for having contributed to that. But when he is safe, when he is calm, when he does not feel the need to prove himself to anyone, when he does not have time to think or when no one sees him, he is amazing. I. . . I only cause him to he see himself as he is, as the others see him, as Luna see him!" She sobs. "There's not a more beloved prefect in the whole school! Every time a student has a problem, they go after him. It doesn't matter what house they are. Everyone knows they can count on him. Did you know that I learned the names of all the students of Gryffindor from him, Ginny?" Surprised, she shakes her head without saying a word. She was intensely aware that she shouldn't interrupt Hermione's cathartic process now. "He knows the names of all the students in the lower years of Gryffindor. I imagine that even the sixth and seventh years and everyone goes to him when they have a problem in their real life or get into a mess. Not like me, they only come to me when they have problems with their homework and they do it not because he is soft or he will not punish them. I've seen him put such imaginative and appropriate punishments that would make McGonagall want to adopt him! No, it's nothing like that. It is because he understands them and helps them when they really need it, but he is so convinced that he is mediocre, he is so afraid to fail that he simply suffocates herself and slips up because of it".
"That's why he didn't ask you to be his date at the Yule Ball", Hermione is surprised when Ginny takes the floor again. There's no reproach in her tone now, just warmth. "That idiot, he was dying to invite you. Believe me, I know". Ginny raised her hand gently to Hermione's threat of interruption, who had opened her mouth to give her the counterpoint.
"But he was terrified, Hermione. He couldn't just see you as his best friend anymore to become someone he likes in the romantic sense of the word. The poor idiot wanted to hide it saying those silly things about going with the prettiest girl, or that since you both didn't have a partner you could go together and all that dragon shit", she said, raising her hands and rolling her eyes at the same time, "and you saw how it ended that night. He went with one of the two most beautiful, exotic and noticed girls in the school, but he didn't dance her, he didn't give her a compliment, he didn't give her a glance, because of how jealous he was of Viktor Krum."
Ginny had taken the hand of the brunette with the furious hair and red eyes in front of her. All the initial frustration had faded as she discovered the intensity of Hermione's feelings for her brother, and now she just wanted to give her the comfort she really needed. To be the friend she was supposed to be.
Hermione, on the other hand, was devastated. If physically this confrontation added to her exhaustion from the last few days, emotionally she was a broken doll, and the tears that ran down her cheeks were the irrefutable proof of that. She felt her legs fail her and let herself slide down the wall of the corridor until she was seated on the hard floor of the castle. In a moment of rage and pain, she had opened the doors of her heart wide to her best friend. She had taken out of her chest all that anger and pain that she had been feeling for months and now, instead of a little peace, what she found was an immense emptiness, a darkness so dark that she was surprised that her heart continued beating, because seemed that it was only fed with that anger and now, in its absence, it found no sense to continue beating.
Her silent crying was interrupted for a moment when she felt her friend sit beside her and wrap her in a warm hug. There was no hostility there anymore, just warmth and an offer of comfort that she accepted crying out loud.
"I had bought a new dress for the slug meeting", she whispered between hiccups and sobs after a moment. "Since I couldn't have that ball with him, I wanted, oh God!" She sighed. "I… I really wanted to have a real first date with him that was perfect. I even intended to be much more aggressive...", a sad smile escaped her lips that broke Ginny's heart when she saw it"... with him that night. I even thought about having a couple of drinks to loosen up a bit and make it easier". The longing in her eyes made the youngest of the Weasleys understand the double meaning of the phrase when she heard it. "And, what happened, Ginny? I missed his first kiss and I lost him."
"Then you know what you have to do when that pair of squids break off". The freckled redhead had genuine love in her eyes when she said it and gently pressed her hug when the brunette looked at her with a face of disbelief.
"Oh, come on! Don't look so surprised, Hermione. That relationship won't last. Ron is not comfortable with Lavender. It's true that she has improved his self-esteem, but he doesn't love her. There's got to be a lot more than kissing in a relationship with Ron. He needs passion, vehemence, fire. There has to be someone to incite him, to challenge him, to cause him to be better, do you remember?" She said, raising his eyebrows as she wrote "quotations marks" with her fingers.
"He needs you."
That says it all. The two join into a comforting embrace, each resting her head on the other's shoulder, and while the only daughter of the Weasley clan feels the moisture seeping through her sweater and the tremor of her disheartened friend, this one can barely hear the "stupid blindness" that Ginny mumbles.
"Miss Weasley, Miss Granger! What are you supposed to be doing at this time outside their common room?"
Sitting on the floor, Ginny was stupefied for a moment and then, the next moment, she burst out laughing uncontrollably, causing her hands to fall to her ribs as she rolled on the floor in a very undignified position, seeing how "by magic", the "perfect prefect" seems to have apparate standing next to the head of the house, defying the rule that she has repeated countless times, 'No one can apparate at the Hogwarts grounds...'
"Miss...Miss Weasley! Just what is so funny. . . ?" But the redheads uncontrollable laughter interrupted her.
Meanwhile, at the same time Ginny tried to point her trembling finger at one Hermione Granger, who seemed to have inherited the Weasley superpower to redness to the point of spontaneous combustion.
"Miss Weasley", without losing her composure in the face of the unusual scene, Minerva McGonagall tried to take control of the bewildering picture, although in reality she didn't seem in the least surprised. "Please pull yourself together, stand up! I hope you have a satisfactory explanation for your behaviour."
"Prof... Professor" , Hermione's timid attempt is again interrupted, with another roaring laugh from Ginny, who can barely stand on her shaky legs as she kept pointing at her friend and her face seemed to be about to split in two for a grinning from ear to ear.
"Shit on it, Hermione! For Merlin's sake. . ."
"Just a moment ago..." Ginny seemed to ignore the presence of the transformation teacher as she continued her jocular chatter "...you were talking about how to try and relax, so you could have the courage to face Ro. . . the 'asshole' and do what you want and, as soon as Professor McGonagall appears, you jump up and down and get stiff as if a stick had been shoved up your arse? What. . ."
"MISS WEASLEY!" At this moment the teacher's face looked absolutely horrified with the colourful language from the youngest of the Weasley family.
"Ginny. I sincerely believe that this is not the time. . ."Whispered a brunette with her hair more frizzy than ever, as she threw an Avada Kedavraish look at her shameless friend who, seemed to have either uncontrollable verbal incontinence or an unparalleled suicidal wish. Meanwhile Ginny continued to talk without realising it.
"Are you going to be just as stunned when he freezes and a trickle of slime when you "turn more aggressive with. . ."
"ENOUGH!" Raising both her voice and her hand in an energetic gesture that cannot be replied to Mc Gonnagall interrupted the diatribe and laughter of the fifth year student, who finally seemed to notice the presence of her teacher. "I don't really care anymore why you are out of their rooms after curfew and not even what it was all about", she said, as she puts two finger to the bridge of her nose as if she had a terrible headache. "The point is that you both are contravening the rules of the school and therefore both deserve a detention", provoking the immediate face of terror of the sixth year prefect.
"Miss Weasley. It's not just the fact you are wandering around the castle after hours, doing who knows what? But I will not consent to the use of such vulgar and rude language in my presence. So, next Friday, you will report to Mr. Filch who will tell you which toilets to clean. . . no magic."
"As for you, Miss Granger; I really cannot understand why you did not immediately accompany Miss Weasley to Gryffindor Tower neglecting your duties as prefect. Do you have anything to say that might excuse you?"
"Actually, I think I can, Professor McGonagall", which provokes a gleam of curiosity in the glances now directed at her, from the punished student and the Transfiguration Professor simultaneously. "But it's not in my defence", she says, looking up from her shoes, "but in the case of Ginevra Molly Weasley", a perverse smile hints at Hermione's face that quickly becomes sweet, when she see a grimace of annoyance at her friend's as soon she was called with her full name. "Actually, I was having a problem focusing on one of my assignments and she offered me a new perspective", she says just at the instant she turns away for a moment her eyes from her favourite teacher, to offer a warm smile to the stubborn redhead.
"Well, that's a commendable attitude no doubt, Miss Weasley", for a moment the latter of them thinks she detects the flash of a smile on the teacher's face, but it's so fleeting that she thinks she's imagining it. "But both of you will understand that the corridors of Hogwarts at dawn are neither the place nor the time for such things, for which the sanctions are still in force. Are you both aware of this?"
"We are, Professor McGonagall." They both answer together.
"Good. Gryffindor will be deducted ten points for each of you for being out of the common premises after curfew and Miss Weasley will be deducted another five points for inappropriate language. I would recommend that you do not reply, Miss Weasley", she adds, seeing like the redhead was making the attempt to protest, "and thank Miss Granger for her defence. Initially I was planning to deduct another ten points."
"I'll thank you very much, Hermione", she mumbles in a buzzing tone that makes the target of her gratitude shudder imagining the kind of thank you that must be planning to give her the explosive temperament of the redhead. "All right. I think it's time for us to get back to the tower and get some rest for the rest of the night", she says in a breath.
It was at the moment when both students have turned around and started to withdraw in the direction of Gryffindor Tower when:
"By the way. . ." the voice of the head of Gryffindor house forced them to turn around to face her again and find her with her back to them.
"I think that change of perspective will be very useful to you, Miss Granger", she adds as she turns his head and stares over his glasses at the surprised prefect.
"Wha..Yeah?. . . err. Yes. I. . . I think it'll be, professor. Yes, I'm sure it will be. Thank you very much", stutters the dazed brunette meanwhile Ginny bit her hand in a desperate attempt not to burst into laughter once again.
"I expected no less from you, Miss Granger. You're dismissed."
And so, while the two students of the renowned Hogwarts School of Magic and Sorcery, one of them in a state of shock and the other one barely able to contain her laughter, headed back to their tower, Professor McGonagall finally headed for her own quarters, the beginnings of a smile on her face:
"Fifty points for Gryffindor..." to his mind comes, the memory of the great dining room adorned in green and silver, while a venerable aged man with white beard speaks and one chubby and fearful child, listens astonished his words. '. . . It takes great courage to stand up to our enemies, but it takes the same courage to stand up to friends. . .' "Miss Weasley."
I would like to thank to the incredible Headcanonsandmore, for her invaluable help in completing the English version of the text. Without her, it really wouldn't have been possible. I think this is, so far, my best work, and if there's anyone it deserves to be dedicated to, it's you. Again, thank you very much for your help.
This is the work that, I really would have liked to present at the romioneficfest 2020, but it turned out to be a bit long. . . more than 10 times longer, but a lovelly Dragon, gave me a chance.
Thanks to read.