The ferret and the weasel. Of all the things he'd heard in his life, Ron never thought he'd hear that. It made him sick to his stomach every time; to think his little sister was dating…he didn't even know if he could handle the thought…Draco Malfoy. Draco Malfoy, of all people.
He had been against it from the beginning, of course, with Harry and Hermione staunchly backing him up when he confronted his rebellious little sister. (Well, sort of…) But, yell and scream and lecture as he would, it was in vain. She claimed Malfoy had changed; Ron had seen nothing of this sort. She claimed he cared for her, and would never do anything to hurt her; he had to concede that she hadn't been strung up and used for Slytherin curse practice yet. "But," as he had warned her darkly. "He might."
"He might what?" She replied curiously, making him realize he hadn't actually said anything out loud.
"Never you mind," he said sullenly, feeling vaguely that he had failed her as an older bother…er…brother. In no way was he a bother. He laughed at the thought. Well, not so much laughed as tried to laugh, seeing how it came out as more of a weak chuckle. And furthermore, one that made Ginny stare at him in consternation.
"What is it now, Ron?"
"Er…nothing." He rubbed his neck thoughtfully and decided to leave it at that for the moment. Oh, but when he got his hands on that smarmy little ferret…
Pain. Lots of pain.
Leaving Ron obviously contemplating Malfoy's forthcoming demise, Ginny ponced off to find the object of his wrath and, recently, her affection. She wasn't much worried; Ron did admittedly have a bit of a temper, but he always recovered fairly quickly. He would just have to get used to the thought of her new beau…
…Who happened to be out by the lake, looking gorgeous, as usual. She hated being shallow, but he was simply adorable, and at the moment she was feeling just about as deep as a mud puddle.
A lock of his silver-blonde hair fell gracefully over his left eye, though somehow it didn't seem out of place. It made her own flaming-red Weasley hair seem garish and untidy, though she'd spent hours on it that morning. He was dressed impeccably, his black cloak with the silver lining rippling in the cool breeze coming off the lake, the trademark silver and green of the Slytherin uniform peeking out from underneath. The very sight of him made her heart leap as though she'd just eaten half a dozen Chocolate Frogs. She came to stand beside him, neither speaking for a few seconds. Then…
"Have you told Weasley Senior yet?"
"Don't call him that, Draco," she scolded playfully. "And yes, I have."
"My apologies," he said wryly. "We just have such history, your brother and I. Did he have a fit?"
"He was in a right strop; we both knew he would be. But he doesn't matter." She twined her arm through his, looking up into his steely gray eyes. "It's you I care about."
"Forsaking your own brother for me? How sweet." His tone was carefully sarcastic, but he seemed pleased all the same.
In the meantime, Ron was thinking – hard. He paced about the common room, face red and eyes narrowed, gesturing wildly and muttering to himself. Every now and again he'd stop, a wild sort of light in his eyes, then would shake his head in frenzied disappointment and continue pacing.
It was exhausting simply to watch him…or at least he gathered that much, judging by the way Hermione's eyelids kept sliding shut and the fact that Harry seemed to be asleep sitting up. Pausing a moment in his pacing to glare venomously at the two of them, he tapped his foot impatiently on the plush crimson carpet, arms crossed petulantly over his chest. The effect it had on them was somewhat less than impressive. Hermione's fluttered closed once more, and Harry's head, which had been propped on his hands, fell to the table with a loud thunk. Ron scowled.
"Your enthusiasm is positively dazzling."
Harry began to snore.
Ron's eyebrows shot up into his hairline. "Impressive."
"Ron," Hermione said wearily, forcing her eyes back open. "You kept us up half of last night talking about this exact thing! Exams are next week! Don't you think we should be worried about that?"
"You've been drilling us for months; I'm not worried." He assured her, looking indignant. "Besides, this is my little sister!"
Harry made a noise that could've been agreement, but it couldn't be confirmed, as he was still mostly unconscious. Ron scowled again. A muscle in his cheek twitched.
"It's not that bad, Ron." Hermione chided. "It's better than watching them stare longingly at each other when they pass in the corridor, isn't it?"
"I think I'm going to be sick."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, come off it."
He snorted in disgust, pointing an accusing finger. "Are you defending Malfoy, now?"
"Of course not! I – "
"I preferred it when she had a crush on Harry!" he shouted.
Harry woke with a startled snort, and his head shot off the table, glasses hanging crookedly on his nose. "s'matter?"
"Nothing," Ron snapped, grabbing his cloak off the nearby chair it was draped over and stalking off towards the portrait hole. "I'm going out."
Ginny had never felt more nervous in her entire life, she was sure. It was a good sort of nervous – butterflies fluttering about in her stomach – but it was still nervous. Her heart thudded in an erratic tattoo, making her feel as though she had an entire marching band prancing around inside her chest, and she barely noticed as Draco led her calmly to the edge of the forest, sitting at the base of a large elm tree. This was the closest she'd ever been to him before; his arm resting casually across her shoulders, fingers toying gently with a lock of her hair. The smell of him filled her nostrils – sweet and clean, yet spicy and exotic all at the same time.
Leaning affectionately against his shoulder, she sighed contentedly, gazing into those beautiful gray eyes once more. A smile touched his lips.
"What're you thinking?"
She shrugged. "Nothing. Except…well, it's strange, isn't it?"
One of his eyebrows arched up curiously. "What's so strange about us?"
"Well…just think about it; you're a Malfoy, and I'm a Weasley."
She wrinkled her nose at him. "Well…"
"Do you think it's strange?" His voice was quiet, gentle, as he leaned in…
His lips were soft, just as she'd expected they would be, and she felt drawn in by them, leaning closer still. His other arm curled around her waist, his fingers lightly caressing her back. Her pulse raced faster and faster, heart thumping as though she'd just run a race. He pulled back slightly.
"I'll take that as a 'no'."
She smiled, drawing him back to her. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she grinned into his lips, her body tingling all over. She was in Heaven.
"Oh, bloody hell! Now I am going to be sick!"
Heaven shattered into a thousand pieces of crystalline glass.
Draco pulled away from her slowly, fixing Ron with a cold stare. His voice was like ice. "A little privacy here, Weasley?"
"Get. Your. Hands. Off. My. Sister." Ron growled.
Ginny frowned, blushing in embarrassment at the intrusion. "Go away, Ron." What a terrible time for him to show up!
His face darkened from a grimace of disgust to a snarl, but he ignored her. "She's coming with me, Malfoy."
Draco's upper lip curled into a sneer, and, standing smoothly, he met Ron glare for glare. Ginny had never really noticed before how very tall he was.
"You know, Weasley, you're going to have to deal with your sister dating sooner or later." His long cloak swirled menacingly around his legs, making him look fiercer than she'd ever imagined he could. She had the sudden urge to kiss him again, but decided it would probably be best if she put it off till later.
"I am dealing with it." Ron snapped, quickly sidestepping Draco and seizing her arm. "Come on Ginny, let's go."
She shrugged him off coolly, climbing to her feet and pausing to meticulously brush a few stray blades of grass off her robes. Ron glowered.
"See you later, Draco?" she asked serenely, flashing him an apologetic smile. He didn't smile back; his eyes were still focused on her idiotic brother.
"Yes." It sounded like a challenge, and she knew perfectly well it wasn't meant for her.
Nodding, satisfied, she grabbed Ron's arm and marched him off towards the castle before he could say anything else. He would pay for ruining the most wonderful moment of her life.
Harry peered nervously at the dream chart he was filling out for Divination and scratched his head in puzzlement. So far, he had deciphered that he would be mauled by a bookcase (hardly unbelievable; Hermione had already smacked him five or six times with her battered copy of 'Hogwarts: A History'. He no longer wondered why so many of her books were in such poor shape.), would drown in a bowl of soup, and would be strangled by his own shoelaces, no less.
What bothered him most was the fact that he wasn't making any of it up.
Staring at his last Thursday's entry in confusion, he leafed distractedly through his Divination book, dreading what he might find out next. Would he be attacked by a rabid Niffler? Contract the Black Plague? He double-checked his chart and snorted.
"Beware the enraged weasel? Now that's just – "
The portrait hole swung open suddenly and Ginny Weasley stormed in, looking murderous. He vaguely wondered how accurate his dream charts could be.
But, thankfully enough, he didn't need to worry about that, as Ginny's current state was easily explained when he noticed Ron trailing in behind her. From the nauseous look on Ron's face, he guessed there had been an interesting new development. Or several. He shoved the half-finished Divination aside.
"Hullo Ginny." He said brightly.
She didn't even pause to glance at him, immediately starting up the stairs to the girls' dormitories. "Hello Potter." She muttered.
Harry blinked. Interesting new developments, indeed. Meanwhile, Ron was turning alternate shades of purple and green. Harry decided that this, in itself, was an interesting new development.
"Dare I ask what happened?" He said tentatively.
"Ah." He waited a few moments. "What happened?"
When Ron turned an unattractive shade of puce, Harry was fairly sure he was going to collapse before any sort of answer could be gotten out of him. But he didn't, and amidst the following near-incomprehensible tirade, he was able to make out the words 'snogging', 'Malfoy', 'tree', and…
"They were ALONE!" Ron yelled in a final burst of energy. "Completely and utterly ALONE! Malfoy! With my sister!" He sat down heavily, breathing hard, and buried his face in his arms.
"Well…" Harry said, feeling rather bewildered. "Er…you know, it's not that horrible…"
"ARE YOU OFF YOUR NUT!? IT'S MALFOY WE'RE TALKING ABOUT!"
"Well…when I stop to think about it…he's actually been really rather civil this year…" Harry said thoughtfully, tapping his chin with his index finger in that adorable way that made girls scribble 'Mrs. Harry Potter' all over their notebooks. Ron switched from puce to fuchsia with surprising speed.
"THAT'S BECAUSE HE'S BEEN TOO BUSY SNOGGING MY SISTER TO SAY ANYTHING!!!!" he roared.
"For your information," Ginny said tartly, appearing at the foot of the girls' staircase and making both boys jump nearly a foot into the air in surprise. "That was our first kiss – "
"And your last," Ron warned darkly.
She continued on as if he hadn't spoken.
" – and you completely destroyed it! I have half a mind to take out my wand and hex you right now!"
"Now, Ginny, just calm down," Harry said placatingly, standing to receive her. Her glare fixed on him.
"Oh, shut up Harry!" she snapped, and he sank back into his chair, feeling deflated. Ron gave him a look that very clearly said, "I told you she was bonkers; dating that sadistic muggle-hating ferret and snogging him out in the open where any innocent bystander could stumble upon them at any moment! Mainly me! Oh, the public humiliation I am destined to face!"…or perhaps it simply said, "Sucks to be me, eh, Harry?"
Personally, Harry himself couldn't decide.
"Harry hasn't done anything to you!" Ron pointed out, drawing back her attention.
"You shut up, too!" her eyes narrowed, hands balling into fists. "Oooh, Ron, I could just kill you!"
He laughed mirthlessly. "Play your cards right and Malfoy will do it for you! Hey, and while he's at it, why doesn't he just knock off Harry, too? And Hermione! And our entire family! That is what he's planning, after all!"
"Oh, stop it!" she shouted, throwing her arms up into the air. "He's not a murderer!"
"I wouldn't be so sure about that if I were you."
"Argh!" Ginny growled, shoving past him and stomping to the portrait hole.
"Where do you think you're going?" Ron demanded, tramping after her. Harry decided he'd best stay put - for his own safety, if not for any other reason.
"I'm going to find Draco and apologize." Ginny said matter-of-factly. "And don't think you can stop me."
"No, you're not."
Her wand was out in a second, the tip brushing against Ron's nose. Ron gulped. Harry considered ducking under the table, but thought it might seem undignified, so he settled for cringing in horror. After all, dignity…wasn't really all that important in a situation like this. He took a moment to appreciate how very dignified Ginny looked.
"Just watch me."
Ron paled, but persisted. "Ginny, he's practically a Death Eater!"
Even Harry knew this was going much too far. Ginny visibly tensed, and she straightened slowly, fixing Ron with a glare that would've stopped a Hungarian Horntail in its tracks. Her voice was deadly even, her wand poised.
Harry watched in panic as Ron suddenly went ramrod straight, eyes rolling madly in his head, and teetered a moment before falling to the floor with a loud thud. And then Ginny turned on him, making him reconsider sliding under the table. Where was Hermione when he needed her?
"Do you have any objections?"
"None whatsoever," he squeaked, giving her a little wave of consent. "Have fun."
As she stomped out the portrait hole, not caring to avoid stepping on Ron (who gave a strangled yelp of pain as she trod on his fingers), Harry glanced at his Divination homework once more and shuddered. Maybe his predictions were more accurate than he'd thought.
He made a mental note to avoid the soup at dinner.
"A Death Eater, eh?" Draco said thoughtfully, wrapping his arm around Ginny's waist as they walked. "I didn't think I was that far gone…I mean, the occasional anti-muggle joke, but – "
"He's absolutely wretched!" she sobbed, burying her face into his chest. He stopped abruptly, bringing his other arm around her as well. "I can't believe he said all of that! And in front of Harry!"
"He's just a little frustrated, I think." Draco said sagely, and then spoiled the effect by chuckling quietly. "He's going to be furious about this you realize."
"I don't care," sniffling pathetically, she brushed a frizzing strand of hair out of her face and pressed her cheek against his arm. "I hate him."
"Oh, don't say that. He'll come around eventually; just give him time."
"He won't change; he's miserable."
There was a slight pause, and then Draco began to stroke her hair gently. He sighed.
"I can talk to him, if you like."
She pulled away, wiping her tears hastily on her sleeve so she could stare up at him in amazement. "Are you insane? He'll…he'll…"
He shrugged. "Well, somebody has got to talk to him."
"I have, it's just that –"
"He won't listen to you because you're his little sister, and he thinks he has the right to order you around." He brushed a hand against her cheek, smiling amiably. "He'll listen to me. After all, I am a Malfoy."
She couldn't help but smile back.
"You can sound so pompous sometimes…" His eyebrows shot up incredulously. "…and I love it."
Ron was still nursing a few nasty bruises when he arrived in the Potions classroom the next day, and was feeling very bitter about it. Who wouldn't feel bitter about lying paralyzed on the floor for a few hours? Especially since his best friend had been sitting next to him, wand in pocket, and had done nothing; he had had to wait for Hermione to come back before he could move again.
Harry, at least, seemed to be feeling quite guilty, for which he was glad.
"Look, Ron, I'm really sorry; I was just afraid she'd come back, and – "
"It's just Ginny, Harry! You could've handled her if she had come back!"
Harry shifted uncomfortably. "I dunno…she has been studying with Hermione lately…"
"Well, so did we!"
Ron rolled his eyes. "Forget it. I forgive you, alright?" he snapped, rubbing his shoulder absently, and muttering. "…you could've at least given me a cushion, though…"
From the way Harry simply strode into the classroom, Ron guessed he hadn't heard, and, sighing, trailed after him, still rubbing his shoulder.
Ron knew who it was without looking, and groaned, picking up his pace. A hand at his shoulder stopped him.
"I need to say something to you, Weasley."
"It's amazing how you can say anything at all when you've got your tongue stuck so far down my sister's throat…" he pushed Draco's hand off his shoulder, and spun to face the Slytherin. "I don't have anything to say to you, so shove off."
Draco's eyes were cold. "I'm doing this for Ginny's sake, so –"
"So what?" Ron snapped, crossing his arms over his chest impatiently. "Can't she just say it herself? I'd much rather talk to her."
"Would you actually listen?"
"Bugger off, Malfoy." Harry said, suddenly appearing at Ron's shoulder.
"This doesn't concern you, Potter." Draco said coldly, not taking his eyes off of Ron. "It's between Weasley and me."
"If you're going to say something, Malfoy, just get on with it." Hermione said, materializing at Ron's other shoulder. Draco's face darkened slightly. "We're nearly late for class, as it is."
"I wasn't looking forward to doing this," Draco grumbled, mirroring Ron's stance. "But I'm going to enjoy it even less with an audience."
Ron suddenly realized that, for once, Draco wasn't being shadowed by his massive henchmen, Crabbe and Goyle. He was completely alone. For a moment, he considered sending Harry and Hermione away, simply for fairness's sake. But only for a moment.
"This is about my sister, right? So let her tell me." He said dismissively, turning to walk away.
"I'm not going to stop loving her because of you."
Ron turned back abruptly, his anger flaring up.
"You don't love her, Malfoy; you can't love someone if you've got no heart." He snapped, stabbing Draco in the chest with his index finger. "I don't know what you're up to, but you'd better leave her alone."
Draco's eyes narrowed dangerously. "What do you know about love, Weasley? I don't see you with a girlfriend." A hint of his old sneer crept onto his face. "Or is there something about you and Potter that I should know about?"
Ron could feel his ears turning red, and he balled his hands into fists, lowering himself into a fighting stance. "That's it, Malfoy, I'll –"
Draco held up his hands defensively, shaking his head. "I won't fight you, Weasley."
"Well, that's too bad, because I'm going to fight you!" And with that, Ron swung his fist as hard as he possibly could.
It connected with the other boy's jaw with a sickening crunch of bone, and Draco staggered backward with a groan. Unfortunately for Ron, however, the sound had not come from Malfoy's jaw, but rather from his hand. Fiery pain lanced through it, and he stumbled back a few steps, watching Draco cautiously. The Slytherin straightened, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and Ron caught a glimpse of something red.
Malfoy was bleeding.
Draco stared at his hand in shock for a moment, and then brought his glare up to rest on Ron once more. There were cold flames of anger dancing in his steely gray eyes. Ron backed up a few steps, wondering if he should be frightened or not and nearly trod on Hermione's toes. He didn't get much time to wonder, though, as Draco appeared to be coming to a decision himself.
"Right, then." He said resolutely, nodding once, and his fist lashed out so quickly that Ron nearly didn't see it. But, whether he saw it or not didn't really matter, because he certainly felt it. His face seemed to explode with the pain, and his vision was shot with streaks of red. He stood stricken for a moment, feeling himself teetering on the edge of balance, and then all went dark as the floor rushed up to meet him.
Ginny trailed behind as the rest of her Care of Magical Creatures class trudged up the sloping grounds towards the castle, positively dreading the lecture Ron would surely give her when she returned to the common room. She wasn't entirely sure what she had actually been meaning to do, but she'd been so very angry, and the spell had simply popped into her head. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
"Did you hear about the fight in the Potions dungeon?"
The upraised voice of one of her classmates caught her attention, and she squinted up the hill, searching out the owner. Her eyes alighted on a brown-haired Ravenclaw boy she'd never bothered to learn the name of and the gaggle of other students gathered around him, shouting questions. As per usual, they had been drawn like moths to the flame by anything that even hinted of being violent. Ginny sighed.
"Who fought who?"
"What's going on?"
"What happened, Geoffrey?"
'Geoffrey' held up a hand for silence and suppressed a grin, very obviously enjoying all the attention he was receiving. "Well, I only know what I've heard, but it all comes from a very reliable source –"
"Come on, just tell us!"
"Who was it, Geoff?"
Ginny rolled her eyes and kept walking on past the little group, favoring them with a disgusted glare. They paid her no attention. Geoffrey continued on with his little 'breaking news' report, totally uncaring of her lack of interest. His audience was big enough to keep him going.
"Apparently, Ron Weasley popped Draco Malfoy one –"
Ginny stopped dead in her tracks.
"—And then, Malfoy knocked Weasley out cold (dangerous chap, he is) –"
"Then what happened?"
Geoffrey lowered his voice conspiratorially, making the crowd draw in closer. Ginny took a hesitant step backward, turning back to look up at him.
"Well, I heard that Professor Snape himself had to take Weasley up to the hospital wing in a stretcher; gave him detention straight off, too. But, that Malfoy got off with nothing at all. Bloody Slytherins…"
There was a murmur of agreement from the gathering (no Slytherins among them, obviously), and then…
"What was they fighting about, Geoff?"
"Apparently, Malfoy said something about Weasley's sister –"
"You mean Ginny?"
At the sound of her name, Ginny sucked in a sharp breath and glanced around, shrinking to make herself as inconspicuous as possible. Nobody noticed; they were all still enraptured with Geoffrey's narrative.
"—Yeah, that's the one. I think she and Malfoy were dating or something like that, and that's what made Weasley mad. I don't blame him, myself; it's unnatural for a Slytherin to be dating a Gryffindor. It just doesn't seem right…"
Another murmur of agreement. Ginny could feel her face heating up.
"If I'm any judge, there'll be more to this," Geoffrey said ominously. "Mark my words."
There was a large amount of head-shaking and muttering as the crowd began to disband, leaving poor Geoff to soak in the dregs of his moment of gossip glory, and Ginny caught a few snatches of hushed conversation as they passed.
"–must be out of her mind, dating Malfoy—"
"—going to get herself in a lot of trouble someday—"
"—he is rather cute, though—"
"—Weasley's right; we should take the lot of those bloody Slytherins and –"
Too furious and embarrassed to keep up a low profile any longer, she shoved past them all and took off full speed towards the castle, letting her cloak whip along behind her. A few of her classmates seemed to realize who she was as she sprinted past, and stood stricken in alarm; had she heard? She paid them no attention, save to glare at the particular few who tried to stop her. If it was the last thing she did, she was going to prove them wrong. There would be no more to this ridiculous little war between Weasley and Malfoy; she was putting an end to it. Now.
Hermione shook her head at the complete hopelessness of all men – well, boys, really – as she sat at Ron's bedside in the hospital wing, her battered copy of "Hogwarts: A History" sitting open in her lap. It wasn't as though she was really reading it; her attention was elsewhere. But she left it there – for appearances sake, mostly; looking busy and all that. It was really the quiet noises coming from the other side of the curtain that separated Ron's bed from the rest of the room that held her attention, though she would have denied it if asked.
She didn't look up, but she guessed she already knew what she would see if she did. After all, it didn't take a genius to know what…well…kissing…sounded like. She could feel her ears getting hot. This had been going on for a good five minutes already, and she was getting quite...disgusted…but she didn't want to make her presence known; she could imagine the fit Ginny would have if she knew that someone were eavesdropping on her while she was with Draco.
I'm not eavesdropping. Hermione thought fiercely, staring blankly down at the orderly rows of words in her book. I'm watching over Ron.
Remembering that, she threw a careful glance at the boy lying on the cot next to her. Ron was still unconscious, thankfully enough. She didn't want to find out what he'd do when he caught wind of what Ginny and Draco were doing at that very moment: it most definitely wouldn't be good.
A swollen half moon of purpling flesh under Ron's eye and a broken wrist were the only real damage Ron had received from his fight with Draco, save for his obviously wounded pride, but Hermione hadn't had a real chance to see what damage had been done to Draco himself. If anything, he would probably have a mere swollen lip. Unfortunately for both boys, though, Madam Pomfrey had refused to heal either of their small wounds. She had a policy on fist fighting, ('Fight like muggles, heal like muggles') and she held to it resolutely. It was a blessing the fight hadn't lasted longer, or the boys really would've been in a bad spot.
Quiet voices made her lose her train of thought (or rather, let it leave the station), and she began to listen more intently than she would have liked to admit, leaning sideways toward the curtain separating the two boys' beds. Now you're eavesdropping…
"I told you it was madness to try and talk to him; he's absolutely insane. Maybe you'll listen to me next time?" Ginny's voice was sweet and sympathetic; so unlike how she'd sounded lately. "How's your cut?"
"I'll survive. How is your brother doing?"
"I don't know; I haven't seen him yet. Perhaps I should –"
Hermione's heart stopped dead. Ginny wasn't going to come looking for Ron, was she? If she did… Holding her breath until her lungs felt they would seize up, Hermione's eyes locked on the curtain, and she sat up ramrod straight, horrified. But it didn't move.
"I didn't want to fight him, you know."
Hermione had to struggle to keep herself from snorting in disbelief. After what Draco had said about Ron, how could he have not expected a fight? Ridiculous…
"I know…but you could've at least –"
"Could've what? He punched me, Ginny; like a common muggle. You know I –"
"I know, and I'm not angry with you…but Ron is going to be so much worse about everything now. I don't know how much more of all this fighting I can handle. I don't want to be on bad terms with him forever; he is my brother, after all." Ginny sounded close to tears, and there were a few muffled sniffles amid a moment of silence. Hermione realized she was about to fall off the edge of her chair, and braced herself with one arm on Ron's cot. The tension was thick enough to cut with a knife.
Draco's next words were almost too soft to hear.
"I'm so sorry, Ginny."
"It's not so bad, really. We can talk to him together; he can't ignore us both, can he?" Hermione had never heard Draco sound so uncertain before…or so sincere. It was almost unnerving.
"B-but, what if he owls Fred and George? What'll we do then?"
"They're just your brothers, Ginny. What can they do?"
Ginny sounded hurt. "They're just my brothers, yes, but – in case you haven't noticed - there are six of them. And, no offense, but none of them like you very much."
"So? That hasn't stopped me yet."
Hermione shot upright, knocking her chair over backwards as she leapt to her feet, suddenly finding herself looking into the sharp but matronly face of Madam Pomfrey. The latter looked slightly confused at this reception, but smiled bemusedly nevertheless.
"Hermione Granger, isn't Professor Snape expecting you in Potions right now?" the puzzled nurse shook her head disapprovingly. "I know you're worried about Mr. Weasley, but you really ought to be in class."
"Yes, Madam Pomfrey." Hermione stiffened as she heard the curtain being drawn noisily aside, and blushed guiltily as she turned to see the shocked face of Draco Malfoy, and the not-so-shocked-but-really-more-than-a-little-annoyed face of Ginny Weasley. Her heart dropped into her shoes.
"Hermione!?" Ginny whispered fiercely, her eyebrows diving into angry furrows.
Ron stared miserably at the scrap of parchment posted on the Gryffindor notice board in front of him and massaged his cheekbone bitterly. There, written in bold black lettering, was the date of the next Hogsmeade weekend, which was only a week from the coming Saturday. Glancing from the board down to the note clenched in his fist, he let out a groan of frustration and strode over to the fireplace where Harry and Hermione were lounging in identical lopsided chintz armchairs, deep in conversation. Neither one looked up as he approached, but he didn't mind; Ron hadn't felt much like talking since his less-than-glorious return from the hospital wing earlier that afternoon. After all, what would he have to say? Along with a beautifully blackened eye and a fractured wrist, all he had was his bruised pride, and neither was something he felt like flaunting. Even Malfoy's swollen upper lip wasn't worth gloating over. He had much more important things on his mind.
Ron wasn't daft; he knew what a Hogsmeade visit would mean for his little sister. Draco would, no doubt, ask Ginny to go with him, and that would mean that they'd have more time to spend together – alone together. And, as the last of Ginny's brothers still attending Hogwarts, Ron simply could not allow that. It looked like he was going to have to –
Hermione's voice pulled him – quite rudely -- out of his incredibly short reverie, and he peered bad-temperedly down at her. Some of his anger melted away, though, when he saw the worried expression on her face. But not very much.
"Yeah? What is it, 'Mione?"
Her forehead creased into a frown. "Are you alright, Ron? You look…well…upset. Does this have anything to do with Snape giving you detention and not Malfoy?"
"No, but thank you for reminding me." He answered bitterly, waving his heavily-bandaged hand, as if to emphasize the statement. "It's not like my day was going badly enough or anything; I just needed that bit of good cheer to add a spark of joy into my life. Thank you so much."
"Now, Ron," Harry piped up, straightening in his chair and giving Ron an indignant look. "There's no need to –"
"Shut up, Harry. Neither of you seem to understand the gravity of this situation." Ron said forcefully. "Now, this is my little sister, and she is DATING Draco Malfoy! Don't you two have anything to say about this!?"
Harry's eyebrows furrowed anxiously. "Er…it's not as bad as it seems?"
Mouth hanging agape, Ron allowed himself a moment's silence to let this new thought sink in…and then he exploded.
"WHAT!?" he bellowed, looming menacingly over Harry with a thunderous look on his face. "ARE THE BOTH OF YOU INSANE!?!? IT'S MALFOY, FOR GOD'S SAKE!! MALFOY!!!"
"We know that Ron," Hermione said placatingly. "It's just that…"
"JUST THAT WHAT!?"
She looked a bit nervous, herself. "Well, Draco has been civil this year, and we sort of…don't want to spoil that."
"It's a nice change." Harry added, trying not to cringe under Ron's indignant glare.
"OH, I SEE HOW IT WORKS, THEN. I'LL JUST HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS MYSELF." His expression gave off sparks as he charged out the portrait hole, Snape's detention note still clenched in his fist. "I DON'T NEED EITHER OF YOU!" he declared, spinning to give them one last furious glare before the Fat Lady swung back into place.
"There's no need to shout, dear." she chided, shaking her lacy handkerchief at him. He glowered.
"Oh, shut up."
There wasn't a single person who dared to step in Ginny's way as she stomped down the corridor with a dark look that transformed her delicate features into something sinister and ghoulish – it was quite obviously in their better interests to simply let her charge past them, rather than to throw themselves into the path of her fury. After all, wasn't there something somewhere about red-heads having unnaturally bad tempers? Ginny, of course, didn't mind this at all – except for the fact that it didn't give her the chance to warm up before she got to Hermione…
She fumed, playing and replaying the expression that had been on her brother's nosy friend's face when she discovered her eavesdropping. Of all the childish things she'd known Ron to scheme up, this had to be one of the worst, most immature…
Struggling to keep herself from throwing the first hex that came into her head at whoever it was that was calling out to her, Ginny whirled about abruptly, wand clenched tight in her fist and a violent light in her eyes. It did not help her mood that the first thing to register was Colin Creevy's camera; mere inches from her face, his own pointed face - plastered with a simpering grin - close behind it. Peering over his shoulder, she could see Luna Lovegood hovering a few feet off, wearing her usual dreamy expression and carrying a pen and paper. The situation was, indeed, very strange, and – Ginny thought – somewhat suspect. For a moment, she didn't know whether to be angry or confused.
"What's going on?"
Luna smiled benignly, waving her notepad at Ginny. "Colin and I were just wondering if you would give us an interview for The Quibbler – my father wants to do a special on Death Eaters' spouses. He said it would be interesting to get the perspective of an up-and-coming Death Eater couple. You don't mind, do you?"
Ginny flushed an unattractive shade of puce, for a moment faintly resembling her brother, and clenched her wand tighter. A vein was pulsing in her forehead. She growled.
"Could I get a quick picture?" Colin gasped nervously, brandishing his camera with a twitch. "You don't have to smile or anything – I think that looks great."
Ron was just barely warming up his fuming and stalking-about muscles, when he was suddenly interrupted by the sound of someone whimpering somewhere down the - until now - abandoned corridor he was occupying. Much to his chagrin, it appeared to be getting closer. Mumbling a few last curses before whoever was coming got into earshot, he crumpled up Snape's detention note more so than it already was and glowered. His expression didn't fade when he saw who was rounding the corner. Colin Creevy, cradling what looked like the shattered remains of his camera and nursing a bleeding lip, was hobbling towards him, lightly supported by Luna Lovegood, who was wearing her usual wistful smile. Unfortunately his last-minute attempts at sneaky and clever avoidance maneuvers were foiled by a puddle of what he hoped was water and a badly-placed suit of armor. Pushing up the rusty, now much-battered visor with an angry flourish and a loud squeak of hinges, he treated the approaching pair with his best scowl.
It was his opinion that he looked very fearsome with his blackened eye and blood freshly spouting from his nose – so fearsome, in fact, that Luna and Colin could hardly react. He had paralyzed them with fear. And it was true too, if Colin's wobbly gait was any intimation.
"Oh, hello, Ronald." Luna breathed dreamily, pulling Colin vaguely along. "How funny to meet you here. We've only just seen your sister."
Truly quaking with terror.
"She broke my camera." Colin whimpered pathetically, clinging to Luna as one would to their sanity. Which was odd, to say the least, since Loony Lovegood was as far from sanity as one could possibly get.
Ron frowned unsympathetically, climbing laboriously to his feet and removing the dented helm. "Bloody nuisance…going to get herself in a lot of trouble very soon…won't listen, no…too smart for that…he's changed…" Extremely aware that he sounded a bit loony himself, he gave the fallen suit of armor a vicious kick ("Ow! God's thumbs! 'Tisn't my fault thou'rt a clumsy oaf!") and continued on his merry way. To the dungeons.
Four hours of dusting, cleaning, cataloging and organizing Snape's collection of floaty dead animal bits preserved in glass jars did nothing to improve Ron's mood. Especially after the entire contents of the top shelf had crashed to the floor two-thirds of the way through the operation, spraying him with various squid tidbits. The whole fiasco had put him off sushi for life, he was sure. Not only that – he would have to throw away his best trainers, which smelled so strongly of formaldehyde that he feared he would be mistaken for one of the undead if he ever wore them in public again. It was all very trying...and he hadn't even put Snape into the equation yet. Snape, who had hovered over his shoulder every second of those four hours, pointing out his shortcomings and accusing him of inefficient labor. However, fortunately enough, Snape appeared ignorant of the reason why Ron had punched Draco in the first place. It had been bad enough to be verbally mauled about his own faults, he didn't think he could handle it if Snape used his sister's "relationship" (he snorted) against him, as well. But Snape was blissfully silent on the matter...or so it seemed.
Just as Ron began to trudge out the door, barefoot and reeking of the undead, Snape made his final jab.
"Oh, and Mister Weasley," Ron half-turned, dreading what he knew he was about to hear. "If you wish to defend any sort of fabricated honor your sister might be believed to possess, do so somewhere other than in my dungeons." He sneered, making a vein in Ron's temple start to throb. "That will be all."
The only thing that prevented Ron from slamming the door hard enough to knock all of Snape's precious floaty-animal-bits to the floor was the unspoken threat of another detention. Revenge would hardly be revenge if he was made to clean up after it.
Harry woke to the smell of unpleasant things rotting in dark, moist places, and wondered vaguely if he might still be dreaming, or at least hallucinating. But the stench was there, even after he pinched himself. It reminded him rather of what he'd always imagined a zombie to smell like. He felt a small tremor of fear – zombies had always been high on his list of things to avoid. And now, what did he do, now that one might actually nearby? He strained his ears, listening for the dragging of moldering feet, the rasp of collapsed lungs working for breath, and heard...
"BLOODY HELL!" Ron's voice was distinguishable enough, even muffled as it was. Harry groped for his wand.
"What are you doing, Ron?" There was the shuffle of feet, the smell... "Ron, I think there's a zombie somewhere nearby!"
"Shut up, Harry."
"But can't you smell it?"
"Just shut up and go to sleep, you git."
The awful smell still pervaded Harry's senses, but he pressed himself back onto his pillows, trying to get his night vision to adjust. He could just make out Ron's blurred silhouette getting climbing laboriously into bed. He frowned. He couldn't see any zombies nearby. He was hallucinating, then. It wasn't like him to be terrified over imaginary foes. No, most of the time, he was terrified by very real foes. A member of the undead showing up in his dormitory hardly seemed realistic, he reminded himself, annoyed at his sudden, unexplained bout of dementia.
All the same, he kept his wand in a tight grip.
His Divination chart had failed to mention this.
The days passed all-too-quickly for Ron, who suddenly found himself one day away from the Hogsmeade visit, and still no plan to break up his younger sister's misbegotten romance. Harry and Hermione were no help. Ever since the night of Ron's detention, Harry had been going on about zombies, positive that Voldemort had started sending them against him. He had even taken to wearing latex gloves and jumping at small noises. Ron suspected that Harry had finally gone off the deep end. That, or it was just an excuse to avoid helping Ron with his devious plans. If it was the latter, it was rather overdone. If it really was the former, Ron didn't correct him. He had too much on his mind. And besides, the gloves were rather amusing.
He had fully expected Hermione to dismiss the notion as a figment of Harry's imagination, but surprisingly enough, she'd taken up the subject with an insane fervor of her own, researching it whenever she had a spare moment. And so, he was left on his own to come up with a devious plot.
He found he was exceedingly bad at it.