Prompt: When Hermione returns to the common room with a large bruise on her face, Ron is very concerned about what has happened. They have a heart to heart and he finds out what's really been happening those evenings in the library...

3 Specifics: Draco, homework help and a spell

Notes: Written for alicat123 for the R/H Fanfic Challenge on livejournal. My first attempt at Harry Potter fic.

"Hermione!" Ron called in shock as his friend stumbled through the portrait hole into the Gryffindor common room, a huge bruise on her left cheek and half dried tears clinging to her face. Her hair was in a wild tangle around her shoulders and her clothes were ruffled, as if she had worn them for several days in a row.

Ron swallowed uneasily, overcome by a sudden urge to protect her. Allowing the feeling to surface in an all-consuming wave, he jumped up and led her to the stuffed chair next to his. "What happened?" he asked her quickly, before she had a chance to run off into the girl's dormitory. "Who did this to you?"

Hermione, having been caught halfway to her room, glanced frenziedly between her intended destination and Ron. She looked about ready to breakdown, and Ron had a sudden flash of a squirrel caught in the way of oncoming traffic, like in one of the muggle photographs that his dad had shown him. "It's okay, Hermione," he attempted to soothe her. "What happened?"

He had his suspicions. All of them included Malfoy. It was likely that he'd do something like this, being the mudblood hater that he was. Maybe he was trying to make a statement regarding the mudblood part of the wizarding community.

Or maybe he'd pushed the act onto one of his cronies. It would be just like him to back out and get someone else to do his dirty work. Crabbe and Goyle's morals were most definitely questionable. They'd do anything to stay in Malfoy's good books. Whoever it was, they were going to suffer.

"It's not okay, Ron!" Hermione finally stated, making up her mind. If Ron wanted to talk, she'd talk. It wasn't like it would make any difference to her current situation. Nothing could. "It's actually a long way from okay," she added angrily. "It's so like him to do this!"

Ron stared at her, confused at where she was going. "Uh…what?" he questioned blankly. "Who are you talking about? Malfoy, right? What did he do?"

Hermione nodded heatedly. "Yes, Malfoy!" she admitted, frowning. She inhaled loudly and moved a little reluctantly to the proffered chair next to Ron. "I…I've been helping him with the homework for Defence Against the Dark Arts," she explained. "It was going fine until…until today."

Again, she was rewarded with a dumbfounded expression. "You did what?" Ron asked. His eyes opened wide in something that resembled shock. "You…you were helping him? Him, as in Malfoy, the one we all love to hate!? What did ya do that for?"

Hermione blinked furiously and turned away from Ron, wiping the corner of her eyes with her index finger. Stifling back a sob, she nodded again. "Yes, Ron. It was stupid, okay? But how was I to know that he would do…that he would do this? And anyway, he came to me for help in the first place – Professor McGonagall sent him. I couldn't just turn him down. You would've done the same"

Ron gulped nervously and nodded back. "Um…yeah…there was no way you'd know." He offered her an apologetic look, hoping that he hadn't messed things up between the two of them now, by putting his foot in his mouth. Metaphorically, of course.

Hermione just shrugged and attempted a weak smile. "Oh, I guess it should have been obvious. It's not going to happen again, that's for sure!"

Ron reached out and placed his hand on her shoulder – a tiny gesture of comfort. "So…what happened exactly?" he asked, after a moment. "Y'know, with the – " he pointed awkwardly at the bruise that was rapidly becoming more and more visible. "You should go get Madam Pomfrey to put some cream on it."

"No, I'm fine. Going to Madam Pomfrey would only show Malfoy that I'm weak. I can't do that. Not this time." She searched her friends' eyes for understanding and receiving it, smiled gratefully and returned back to her story.

"I was in the library helping Malfoy," she began. "There was a spell that he was having trouble with so we were working on that. After awhile, a girl from Slytherin who I didn't recognise came in with Crabbe and Goyle and Malfoy started acting all strange. He…he started joking with them. About…mudbloods and…" she faded off.

"That jerk!" Ron spat angrily. "What then?"

Hermione remained quiet for a moment longer, seemingly weighing up whether or not she should say any more. Choosing to continue, she looked back over at Ron. "Well, I told him that we were done and that I wouldn't help him anymore. And he…he hit me."

She paused and dropped her gaze to the floor in shame. "They were all laughing at me, so I hexed them and came straight here." She sighed reluctantly, although she did seem calmer now that her story was out.

Ron glared out towards the portrait hole, as if his gaze would stop Malfoy and his cronies in the tracks, wherever they happened to be in the castle. He could feel his face burning with fury, and was sure it was bright red. "We should report it. Get him kicked out. He has no right to do that. No right at all." He looked up and stared meaningfully at Hermione.

"Ron," she whispered, reaching over to place a hand on his. "It's really not worth it." She smiled gently at him. "Thank you though. It's nice to know I have someone to look out for me if I need it."

Ron nodded slowly, feeling some of the anger dissipating at her touch. After a few minutes of sitting in silence, he was a lot calmer and it suddenly occurred to him that he'd forgotten to ask his friend something.

"What hex did you use?" Ron asked, smirking slightly, his previously felt anger all but gone and replaced by thoughts of revenge. "I hope you got them good!"

Hermione grinned. "It was something I made up myself. I think it'll wear off in a few days. I can't be sure though. I've never tried it before." She gazed out towards the portrait hole thoughtfully, imagining the effects of her spell. She hoped it had worked. She hoped it had worked really well.

"Awesome! What did it do?"

"If I told you…" she started.

"You'd have to kill me?" Ron finished.

Her response was a short nod. "Something like that."

There was a creaking sound as the portrait hole swung open suddenly, and Ginny stepped through, a huge grin plastered on her face. She rushed over to them, leaning on the back of Ron's chair for support.

"You'll never guess what I just saw!" she announced excitedly. Without waiting for them to reply, she went on to tell them. "Malfoy and a few other Slytherins are growing feathers!" Grinning maniacally, she raced off no doubt to spread the news to the other Gryffindors.

Once she was out of sight, Ron glanced over at Hermione, amused. "Hermione. Feathers, huh?" he said, teasingly. He smiled as her face flushed a pale shade of pink.

"It was actually supposed to be fur," she informed him, running over the spell in her mind to try and work out exactly where she had gone wrong. Unable to figure out her mistake, she sighed. "I guess it doesn't really matter."

"Yeah," Ron nodded happily in agreement. "I always did think that Malfoy was a big, ugly chicken."