Hi everyone! First off, thank you SO MUCH for the amazing response I got for my oneshot The Burn of the Phoenix. I was stunned, and am still so grateful for all of the feedback. As such, this is a completely different fic (and it may scar you for life). I won't give away anything here, but my A/N at the end will explain everything a tiny bit more. Your world's about to change... I know mine did, when I found this out. Enjoy.
Oh, and I don't own anything. The second italicized paragraph, however (the quote from Ron), is taken directly from the book, just an attempt to somewhat fit this into canon.
Hermione leaned back against the beech tree, eyes closed and sighing in contentment as the warm breeze passed gently over her face. The slightly cool cover of her opened book was a pleasant weight on her lap, and the small waves from the edge of the lake lapping to shore – a result of a giant tentacle interrupting the calm surface – created a nice, steadying noise…
"…And I had about a second to decide which way to fly, you know, because he looked like he was aiming for the right goal hoop – my right, obviously, his left – but I had a funny feeling that he was feinting, and so I took the chance and flew left – his right, I mean – and – well – you saw what happened."
Hermione opened her eyes quickly, shooting Harry a look of alarm. His green eyes reflected the same concern back at her. She had been zoning out for over an hour of Ron's excited Quidditch talk, most of it flying right over her head anyway. Harry had been an enthusiastic participant in these play-by-plays directly after the match had ended yesterday, but even he was beginning to lose interest; he had taken to simply nodding as a response to Ron's excited exclamations.
But this last statement of Ron's had seemed to wake both of them up.
They hadn't seen what happened. They had been in the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid, almost getting killed by Grawp. That may be an exaggeration, of course, but Hagrid really did to take more care with his decisions. Honestly, what was he thinking? Hermione shook her head minutely, forcing herself to forget about the repellant nickname Grawp had assigned to her (and the equally repellant smell that had emanated off the huge creature)… that was certainly not relevant to the current predicament she and Harry both faced.
Ron needed to know about what had happened, of course, but now? When he was still so happy at his one moment of glory, when he still thought that his best friends had seen his spectacular saves against Ravenclaw's best Chasers?
Hermione looked back over at Ron, momentarily afraid that he had noticed the lacking response of his friends to that lingering question – but was instantly reassured by the fact that he was throwing his head back dramatically, attempting (and failing) to casually sweep the hair out of his face; looking around to see whether or not anyone had been paying attention to his Quidditch exploits. A few third-year Hufflepuff girls were giggling excitedly, muttering to one another and glancing in his direction. Ron adopted a false look of haughtiness, puffing out his chest dramatically.
Harry hid a choked laugh behind his hand at this odd behavior, but the look of slight worry then appeared back on his face as he turned towards Hermione. "Do we tell him now?" he mouthed.
Hermione shook her head. Not now. Not when Ron was still in such a state of euphoria… they had to get him in a worse mood, but for an entirely different reason than their having missed the Quidditch final… maybe then their revelation would go over better in comparison. That way something else would be at fault for his bad mood, and it wouldn't be entirely on her and Harry. It was like a Muggle doctor saying a patient had a terminal illness, only to say – "Just kidding, it's only Type 1 Diabetes!"
"No," she mouthed back to Harry, holding up one finger to indicate that she had an idea. Harry gave her a look of confusion, then shrugged a bit and looked at her for guidance.
Nothing could be as bad as what she was about to tell Ron, not even that she and Harry had missed the game of his life. It was something that went against all that was sacred in his world. Harry, too, was in for quite the unpleasant shock. She barely suppressed a giggle from forming in her throat.
She had been saving one particularly juicy tidbit of information for just such a context, wielding the power of a piece of news that had the ability to derail the fragile minds of the Hogwarts male population, perhaps all the males in the Wizarding world… females too, she supposed, as some girls did seem to enjoy sports… Ginny was Seeker in the past game, after all, and there was also Angelina…
Okay, curse all that load of rubbish about bad news followed by less-bad news being less traumatizing. Maybe she just wanted to see her best friends' reactions to what she was going to say.
"Ronald, Quidditch is a joke!" she exclaimed suddenly, causing Harry to jump a bit and stare at her in offended surprise.
Ron hadn't quite heard her. His hand was busy trying to muss his hair (the way Harry's seemed to fall naturally, not that she felt it at all an attractive look, particularly when she needed copious amounts of Sleakeasy's Hair Potion to make her mane look opposite to Ron's intended goal – but she was getting distracted again).
"What was that, 'Mione?" he said casually, finally turning to look at her.
She couldn't help a small rise of butterflies from forming in her stomach. Stupid, Ronald was never going to think of her in the same way. That much was obvious. She smiled brightly, even more eager to tell him her, erm, sensitive information…
"I said, Quidditch is a joke," she said calmly. Harry and Ron were shooting her identical looks of incredulity – Harry simultaneously looked as if he'd been Confunded, obviously trying to work out how Hermione's declaration was going to help break their news to Ron.
"It's a what? Take that back, Hermione," said Ron, face almost comically contorted into an affronted expression.
"I agree with Ron," said Harry. "That's a… a horrible thing to say." Harry looked even worse than he had after being told that Umbridge had discovered the existence of the DA; as if his world had come crashing down. His face was white, eyes betrayed. After all he had been through, this is what engendered such a wounded expression from him? Hermione couldn't help but laugh.
"You think this is funny now?" shouted Ron. "I know that you may not like Quidditch, but I thought even you understood the importance of the sport! Its long and varied history–"
Hermione's laughs only became louder at this, as Ron obviously knew nothing of the real history. She grabbed a stitch in her side. Ron's eyes widened in absolute horror.
"–The sleek, smooth, top-of-the line broomsticks forged by talented craftsmen, hand-polished and enchanted–" Harry cut in.
Hermione had forced herself to stop laughing, but her face was turning red from the effort. Harry and Ron were just making it all the funnier…
"–The grooves of the wood that make each broom conform to individual body types–"
Holy cricket, this was just getting better.
"–The complicated maneuvers that can be mastered by an excellent flier–"
"–How quickly a broom can react to just a slight movement, how it just responds to your touch–"
Harry and Ron went back and forth like this for a good few minutes, a bewildered and highly entertained Hermione struggling to keep her face as impassive as possible.
"Of course, of course," said Hermione dismissively. "I just mean that the entire concept of riding on a broomstick originated as a joke. Honestly, do the two of you not read?"
"We've established this before, Hermione," said Harry exasperatedly. "We only read what we have to."
"Some of these books have been required reading," Hermione said happily. "Why, A Guide to Medieval Sorcery, A History of Magic, Modern Magical History, and even Quidditch Through the Ages have all made references, though the latter had an admittedly vague summary." She was highly enjoying milking this moment for all it was worth.
Ron and Harry just stared at her blankly. "I don't care Hermione!" said Ron. "What do you mean about flying being a joke?"
"Personally, I discovered the information in One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, which seems a particularly unexpected place, though once you know the facts, it's quite a sensible source–"
"ARRRGHH! Hermione, please!" This particular quote seemed to come from both Harry and Ron in unison.
"Have you never thought it curious that wizards thought of enchanting brooms, of all things?" Hermione began slowly, slight smile gracing her features. "It can't have been for comfort, you know."
Her two best friends stared at her in dumb silence.
"Well…" began Harry, blankly looking up to the sky, as if the clouds would lend him inspiration.
"You see, Hermione, early witches… erm, well, they used brooms a lot, since I reckon their houses were, erm, filthy and all…" Ron's eyebrows were scrunched, deep in thought.
"Yes, that's right," chimed in Harry. "Dirt floors." He nodded resolutely.
"And one day, they, er, got the idea to fly on them. Because everyone already had one, it would be…" Ron's face flushed, as he was evidently unsure of what to say next.
"Convenient," supplied Harry quickly.
"Right. Convenient," agreed Ron. I do remember hearing that Quidditch evolved from loads of different games from different countries, they used to enchant boulders before they came up with Bludgers, and–"
"–Yes, well, that's not entirely the point I'm attempting to make," interrupted Hermione, unable to stop herself from smiling again at Ron and Harry's blank looks. "Think about it: you generally say 'ride on broomsticks' rather than 'ride on brooms', is that correct?"
"Well yeah Hermione, for the most part, but–" Harry was shrugging a bit, as if to portray himself free of doubt, but his face was beginning to show signs of anxiety.
"–Just get to it already," said Ron, sighing.
"All right. You two are aware that there were Muggles falsely accused of being witches for hundreds of years – women that went against customs and traditions and used herbal remedies rather than religious medical practices?"
"Even I got at least that much from Binns, Hermione," groaned Ron. "Though I always thought it a bit wonky that hardly any men were accused. Seriously, could only women be magical?" Ron actually looked offended at the concept.
"Actually, Ronald, there were men deemed sorcerers. While definitely fewer, certain people have gone down in history, such as Giles Corey–"
"–Forget it, Hermione, I don't really care."
"Yeah, sorry Hermione, but I don't either," said Harry. "Get to the flying bit."
"Honestly, Ron, you were the one to bring it up!" He could be so dense sometimes, really… Ron just stared at her and raised his eyebrows, waiting for the rest of the story.
Hermione let out a deep breath and continued. "Anyway, so some of those women would mix certain herbs such as datura, opium poppies, belladona, hashish, fly-agaric mushrooms, and even toad skin into a special 'flying ointment', so called because it gave the sensation of flight," said Hermione.
Then she paused. This next part was going to be a little… difficult to say.
"And?" asked Harry.
Hermione sighed, and then finally obliged. "And, they would, erm, insert this 'flying ointment' into a particular feminine area using a special wooden – well, I think you can imagine."
Ron had turned even whiter than normal. Harry's scar stood out in sharp relief against his similarly paled skin. They stared at Hermione, Harry's mouth agape and Ron silently and repeatedly mouthing the word "No".
"You're not saying… but those were Muggles, Hermione…" Harry almost whispered.
"You're right Harry, but since when have wizards ignored an opportunity to make fun of Muggles? These women were already being described as witches, and now other Muggles were describing them as flying on broomsticks – for obvious reasons, as you now understand – the stick of a broom would be just the right width…" But Hermione stopped suddenly, face flushed with embarrassment over what she had just said.
Ron had fallen over backwards and into the grass sometime during that explanation, arms spread out beside him. He was shaking his head helplessly from side to side, mouth forming some silent and unintelligible mantra (though one word looked suspiciously like vagina). Hermione was unsure if he was even still listening. Harry just sat there, stock still.
Since it seemed neither of them was going to say anything, Hermione overcame her slight mortification and continued. "Erm, so... it appears as if one humorous wizard decided to conform to the stereotype, to literally do the very thing that Muggles described these false witches as doing and, you know, ride a broomstick. There were raunchy medieval wizarding comedy shows making fun of these Muggles and their, ahem, special way of flying, in which actual wizards flew on the very first enchanted brooms. There's evidence to suggest that they wore women's clothing, it must have been quite funny…" Hermione giggled a bit, but stopped at Harry's glare.
"Well, yes. Anyway. So sport just sort of evolved as a result."
Ron sat up slowly, swaying a bit on the spot as if dizzy. It was Harry who finally found his voice. "That's rubbish, if any of the books you mentioned talked about that, Hermione, more people would know…"
"Yeah!" Ron shouted suddenly. "Harry's right! Nice one, mate," he said with a grin, patting Harry on the back. "This is all some elaborate joke of Hermione's." Both boys looked decidedly happier, each letting out a somewhat forced and unsure laugh or two; but they were now narrowing their eyes towards her in suspicion.
"But blimey, that's not bloody funny," Ron continued seriously. "And a bit dirtier than what I would have expected from you, to be honest…" He chortled a bit, meeting Harry's gaze with a mischievous wink. Harry smiled back.
"Seriously Hermione, that's almost on par with some of Fred and George's bits. Did Umbridge put something in your pumpkin juice?" asked Harry, laughing. He slapped a grinning Ron on the back.
Hermione's face had again become flushed, but out of mild anger this time instead of embarrassment. "Excuse me? How could you think…? Do you two really believe that I could lie about something like this? When have you ever known me to…"
"Show me one of the books, then, and I'll believe you," said Ron simply. "Now that I think on it, Seamus was reading A History of Magic in the common room the other day. He's fairly good with readings, y'know, since he has to work extra hard not to blow things up…"
"Mind you, Binns had assigned those extra lines," added Harry, "…but seeing as Ron and I usually, erm…"
"Yes, you ask me," sighed Hermione. "I really should stop that, I'm afraid you two won't earn four O.W.L.s between the both of you."
"Bollocks, Hermione, Harry's at least scoring an 'O' in Defense… even if he weren't half as good as he is, it's really the principle of the thing," said Ron, shrugging. "And I'm good in... well, Hagrid's is sure to be all right, if there're no Skrewts…"
"Ron, I'm a nutter, remember? So I'm not getting any free passes from an examiner," said Harry, only a slight hint of sadness in his voice.
Hermione was sitting quietly and patiently, head propped in her hands. They'd figure out the truth eventually.
"Not since the Quibbler interview, Harry! I think people are really starting to come around!"
Harry just looked at Ron. "And we're getting off topic. Keep going about Seamus. So he was reading…" Harry raised his eyebrows and gestured for Ron to continue.
"Erm, all right. So Seamus was reading on the chair, you know, the one closest to the fire… I remember, because I wanted to sit there, and he told me to sod off, even though I had to rest my muscles after practice – he can be a right prat sometimes, but–"
"–Anyway," prodded Harry.
"Right, sorry. Anyway, so he said he'd already read it once through and that is was bloody boring, definitely nothing about Muggle women's… lady parts, I think he would've mentioned that bit," finished Ron lamely.
"And I've read through most of Quidditch Through the Ages," said Harry, "Or at least skimmed it, and there's been nothing like that…"
"I'm sure you're both telling the truth," said Hermione. Ron beamed, but his face fell when he saw Hermione's smug smile.
"There's a 'but' coming," said Harry grimly.
"–But," said Hermione happily, "…have you not noticed that certain sections are missing in some of your books? Or even burnt off?"
"A History of Magic does have a blurred out paragraph somewhere," said Harry, thinking hard. "All the copies have it, but apparently the first printing was off and the original text is gone, so we'll never know what was meant to be said… and Quidditch Through the Ages has that singed off section near the beginning, no one's been able to figure that one out." Harry's face was back to a stunned stoniness, and Ron's dread was almost palpable.
"Exactly!" said Hermione. "I had noticed those anomalies before, of course, but had never devoted much thought to them. When I was reading One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, however, I came across a section talking about Muggle witches in the Dark Ages using psychoactive herbs – but the text abruptly changed after that. There was an entire quarter of a page filled with unrecognizable symbols, and the next clear text discussed an entirely new subject.
"Naturally, I went to the library and tried to find the origins of the symbols. In a mere few hours, I discovered that they were a result of a form of concealment magic, a means of hiding an original text. A simple charm – Codifigio – but quite an uncommon one. Though not difficult to reverse, desperate and generally unskilled wizards rely on the charm's obscurity to keep the information a secret. After I performed the counter-charm, I read of the true history of flying broomsticks."
Ron had fallen back onto the grass, eyes glassy.
"When… When was this?" a stunned Harry managed to blurt out.
"Third year," said Hermione quickly. "So that made me think of the other books I had come across with strange omissions." She yanked her huge bag over to her side, pulling out an armload of textbooks.
"Here, Ronald," she said, shoving the fully decoded text of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi into Ron's unseeing face. "There's your proof." Ron, still lying on the grass, just opened his mouth stupidly.
"And see these other ones?" she pulled out copies of each book she had previously mentioned, opening to pre-marked pages. "Each seemed to be under different enchantments – two were even poorly disguised glamours that are easily reversed, I knew something was suspicious in A Guide to Medieval Sorcery back in first year, what with that strange passage on the mead-drinking habits of men on page 127, stuck in the chapter on medieval Muggle 'witches'… but of course, I had no way of recognizing the magic behind the cover-up–"
"–Okay, but why would there be a cover-up anyway?" asked Harry, face incredulous. "And how would someone even go about it?"
Ron gave a small grunt of agreement, though still lying in a daze on the ground.
"Obviously I'm not privy to the whole explanation, but I suspect that quite a large group of people are invested in, ahem, hiding the truth. I don't imagine Quidditch would be near as successful if the public believed it a joke, now would it? Even Dumbledore gave me a frustratingly vague answer about the truth being a dangerous thing, honestly…" Hermione shook her head in mild annoyance. "You'd think a school would be a source of knowledge…"
"You went to Dumbledore about this?" asked Harry. "That's brilliant; I would have loved to see his face."
"Yes, it was definitely amusing," said Hermione, grinning.
Harry laughed, his initial shock and disagreeable mood already seeming to lighten. "I'm not going to be able to say 'Madame Hooch' without losing it ever again, considering what it rhymes with–"
Ron suddenly sat bolt upright. "Yes, we get it Harry! You're so witty! 'Hooch' and 'cooch', is it? Oh bravo. I'm so chuffed you think it's funny that we've been RIDING ON GIANT DILDOS! Where is your shame?"
The third-year Hufflepuff girls – who had been giggling flirtatiously at Ron's stories just minutes before – were now staring at him in alarm. Even if they hadn't heard exactly what he had said, Ron's behavior must have looked strange indeed; he had suddenly risen to his feet, the skin of his face matching the vibrant color of his hair.
He stood on the spot for a few seconds, swaying slightly; face suddenly blanching. His anger, it seemed, had again been replaced by stunned disbelief.
"Ron?" probed Hermione gently.
"I know it's a hard pill to swallow, mate, but there are worse things in the world…" began Harry, shrugging. "We won't tell anyone, y'know, things'll be back to normal. Well, anyone who didn't hear your little shouting spell just now, that is…" He glanced over at Hermione, face impassive, but Hermione knew that he was wordlessly asking her whether or not it was finally time to tell Ron that they had missed his game.
As soon as Hermione opened her mouth, however, Ron turned on his heel and began slowly walking away.
"There aren't worse things in the world," he said quietly. "This is the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to me." He took a couple more steps forward, towards the edge of the lake.
Harry sprung to his feet, catching up with Ron quickly and pulling on the back of his robes. "This is the worst thing that's ever happened to you?" He let out a hearty, incredulous laugh. "Holy hell! Are you forgetting our history? This is bloody scarring, sure thing, but I hardly think it ranks! What about getting knocked out by that chess piece, or the Whomping Willow snapping your wand, or the Acromantulas? What about Ginny being taken into the bloody Chamber? Or Sirius breaking your leg? Or–"
Hermione remained seated by the tree, drowning out the remainder of Harry's litany of 'fun times at Hogwarts', head in her hands. Maybe this news was simply too much for Ronald to handle… she should have saved it for another time, like right before she finally answered his questions about Muggle tampons. That would have been a nice segue. Of course Harry was handling it better, at least now. He was so accustomed to bad news…
She sighed as she looked up, noticing that Ron's strange behavior had started to draw a small crowd. He was still approaching the shore of the lake; Harry had seemingly given up trying to stop him, and had now focused his efforts on trying to divert the attentions of the crowd.
"Don't pay any attention to him," Harry was saying. "He's, erm, been Confunded, completely unaware of what he's doing–"
Ron's blank look – and the fact that he was now up to his ankles in the water – did nothing to refute Harry's claim.
"But who Confunded him, then? asked one of the third-year Hufflepuff girls quietly. She blushed a bit, apparently made nervous by the very notion of even speaking to Harry. "Maybe we should tell Umbridge, that's against school rules–"
"–NO!" yelled Harry, perhaps a bit too emphatically. At the poor girl's stricken look (he really didn't need any more rumors about his personal imbalances…), he lowered his voice.
"No, don't get Umbridge. You should never talk to her. Ever. At all. If you tell someone, make it McGonagall – and tell her it was Malfoy, while you're at it–"
"–Draco Malfoy?" replied the girl, confused. Her face scrunched up a bit, as if hesitant to go against Harry's word. Her two friends looked away, feet shuffling in the grass, uneager to contribute to the conversation. "But I don't see him anywhere…"
"He's invisible," said Harry quickly. "Disillusionment Charm." He smiled, looking quite pleased with his explanation. Hopefully she would go and tell McGonagall, Malfoy had it coming… what sort of rubbish was the Inquisitorial Squad, anyway…
Initially unnoticed by Harry, one of the other girls had suddenly lifted her arm, pointing past him; mouth open in alarm. It only took a moment for Harry to realize why – it must be –
"Blimey, Harry, it wasn't that bad," Ron was saying. He leaned back on the common room chair – the one closest to the fire – wrapped tightly in a blanket. He shut his eyes briefly, breathing in deep and settling himself deeper into the cushions.
The common room had almost entirely cleared out, as it didn't seem anyone else wanted to test Ron's current mental state.
"Ronald, you almost drowned!" said Hermione. "If it weren't for the Giant Squid, you would've–"
"–Yeah, well, it also broke my leg in three places, now didn't it?" interjected Ron angrily. "I bloody well would've been fine, don't know why it felt the need to just slam me back onto shore like that…"
"I think that was accidental, mate," said Harry, trying hard not to laugh. "Those tentacles are pretty thick, you know, not really made for fine motor skills."
Hermione suppressed a giggle into her hand.
"And really," continued Harry, "…you got some pretty admirable airtime from when it first knocked you into the air – y'know, before it caught you and slammed you to shore? I think you almost flew–"
"Don't you ever mention flying to me ever again, Harry," said Ron seriously.
"Yes, wouldn't want you to go and try to drown yourself again, now would we?" said Hermione sardonically.
"For the last bloody time, Hermione, I didn't try to drown myself! I just fancied a swim is all! And there might've been something to that Confunding thing, Harry, I reckon Malfoy could've learned a Disillusionment Charm…" Ron trailed off, deep in thought.
"I'm not going to even touch that one, Ron," said Harry. "But listen, what if I told you I'd give you my Firebolt? Maybe I could convince Umbridge to give it to you, since you're not on a 'lifelong ban'…"
"Merlin's beard, Harry, really?" answered Ron, almost child-like in his eagerness. "Your Firebolt? I'd be able to cover the goalposts so much better, I could actually try some of the pro maneuvers. I figure we could win the Cup again, no doubt! Are you sure?"
"Absolutely not," said Harry. "That's mine, once Umbridge is gone. You couldn't pay me enough Galleons to ask her about giving it to you for now, either. But I'm glad to see you're excited about flying again."
Ron's face reddened. "You're a git, Harry," he said, the intended anger behind the words not entirely communicated.
Hermione chose this moment to catch Harry's eye, and he gave a slight nod in confirmation.
"We missed the Quidditch Final, Ron," said Hermione quickly.
"Oh, and Hagrid's keeping a giant half-brother in the Forest named Grawp." added Harry. "So there's that."
Ron had jumped to his feet, hands grasping at his hair. "So that whole thing about the witches?"
"Bloody distraction, mate," said Harry. "All Hermione's idea, though, I never wanted to know that either…"
Hermione had grabbed her books, smiling tightly, and begun heading for the girl's staircase.
Harry followed Hermione's cue. "Right then, I reckon it's time to go to bed," he said. "Tell you more about the giant in the morning." He rushed off to the dormitory, leaving a stewing Ron – too stunned to even pursue him – in his wake.
Ron looked down at his Cleansweep Eleven, laying innocently on the sofa. The handle was so shiny and slick… he shuddered.
Blimey, was that really the right size to fit up… y'know?
That reminded him. He still had to ask Hermione what tampons were.
So there's my attempt at humor. For reference, the information about the herbs and such is true (check out Michael Pollan's A Botany of Desire), but the rest was my attempt to reconcile the information with Harry Potter. I really don't know if this sucks or not, as I've really only had experience writing angst and death; please let me know what you think! It's quite possible I'll read this in horror tomorrow. Sorry if I scarred anyone for life, but I wanted to take some other people down with me...