SD ~ JKR (the Goddess) reaps HP.

AN ~ I want to dedicate this fic to sgrquill, *sniffle*, T.H., Adnap Nottap (Addy), and all of my other loyal fans (you know who you are.) Thanks for being such a supportive audience! :-) Well, this is an idea I've been hitting around for a couple of months, but I hope it's not too farfetched. enjoy ;-)

Shadows

-dutchtulips-

***

Hermione Granger had to admit, her lessons were getting the best of her nowadays.

As she thought on it, it struck Hermione as amazing how she somehow managed to get through her dozens of classes back in third year. The Time Turner was a constant headache, and she could remember how many weeks she'd stayed awake until well after midnight, trying to finish her homework for all of her lessons. And it had been a relief, not a sacrifice, that Hermione had given up a few subjects at the end of the year.

Presently, sitting at one of the tables in the Gryffindor common room, Advanced Arithmancy, Grade 7, Hermione was busily at work, the thoughts of four years ago suddenly bobbing up in the front row of her mind as she concentrated hard to complete her homework, which consisted of another number chart for Professor Vector. Dipping her quill hastily into the inkwell, Hermione lowered it to the roll of parchment before her to fill in a sum, but was jogged by another thought from her busy third year.

Ron was going up the walls then, she thought, Wondering what in the name of Merlin I was up to, bouncing myself around Hogwarts with that ruddy Time Turner, and then I think he practically went into nirvana because I was in a bad mood that day and slapped Malfoy round the face. . .

Quite suddenly, she felt an involuntary shiver thinking about Ron, but Hermione was used to it by now. She knew what it was all right, but it made her extremely uncomfortable to have such feelings for another. Hermione had learned to just suppress them now, merely force herself to think about something else, or continue with whatever she was doing. So, violently shaking her head, sending her nutmeg locks every which why, Hermione stared back at her homework and started scratching away yet again.

Her thoughts returning to normal, having found her zone again, the young witch worked stealthily for a time, every so often consulting her book and checking her number chart to be sure she'd written in the correct digits. A lock of her hair hung in her face, but she hastily brushed it aside, now nearing the end of the assignment. But out of nowhere, she was sidetracked yet again.

" 'Mione, just tell me one thing, all right?"

Hermione's neck shot up, feeling her heart leap up like a jackrabbit as she heard that familiar voice. Setting aside her quill, she threw her best friend an exasperated look as he sat down across from her at the table, purposely missing her stare.

Folding her hands over her work, Hermione sighed, saying, "What?"

Ron seemed to smirk at her for a moment before answering. He glanced at the number chart underneath her fingers, and then back up into her cinnamon orbs. "When in your life will you need to know this stuff?"

Hermione seemed affronted, her feathers ruffled. Unfolding her hands, she picked up her quill again and consulted Advanced Arithmancy, Grade 7, scratching something else on her roll of parchment, seeming as if she were much too busy to answer such silly questions.

"Well, you never know, Ron. Many positions in the Ministry request some brains on Arithmancy. Besides, it strengthens your logic as well. I think you'd have been much better off signing up for it, as it's a much better use of your time than that Divination rubbish," she said smartly, turning a page in her book.

She could feel Ron's stare on her as she pretended to work. Obviously he knew she was purposely trying to avoid speaking much to him this evening. "Did, I, er, have I done something wrong, 'Mione? I mean," he scratched his head, ruffling his mop of red hair, "I can't think of the last argument we had -"

Hermione sighed and looked up, laying down her quill a second time. Her eyes softened just a little. "Oh, Ron, I'm sorry for snapping. It's just, I've had all this work after Easter, and preparing for final exams and everything . .plus I've got my Head Girl duties. . ."

He nodded. "Yeah, I know. I was just trying to get a smile out of you. Haven't seen one of those Hermione Granger smiles in awhile, you know."

At that moment, she could help but break out into the beam he wanted to see. How did Ron always know what to say that would make her heart melt?

Ron grinned himself. "Ha! There it is! I knew it was hiding in there somewhere."

"Thanks, Ron," she said softly. "For cheering me up."

"Sure. Anytime," he replied, rising from his chair and starting to go.

"Wait!" Hermione suddenly exclaimed, reaching out a tugging at a handful of his black school robes. I don't want him to go.

He turned around slowly. "What's the matter, 'Mione?"

"I, uh, I just. . .haven't you got that Charms homework you didn't get completed yet? Why don't you bring it over and we can work together?" She offered.

Ron made a face for a moment, as he always did at the mention of homework. But something about the way Hermione asked made him change his mind. "Sure, why not? I'll hurry on upstairs and grab my spellbook."

The young witch picked up her quill again and watched him go. "See you in a minute," she called after him, looking back down at her number chart, which was finished now. Quickly, she rolled it up and pulled Advanced Arithmancy, Grade 7, towards her, and absentmindedly stared at the first page of their current chapter. Yet she kept a trained eye on the staircase to the boys' dormitory, anticipating Ron's return.

You've got to get a grip on yourself, Granger, she told herself, suddenly forcing her eyes back on her book. Ron's just your best friend. Just your best friend.

***

Professor Sprout's reading assignment on asphodel, a plant of the lily family that helped heal common cold sores when brewed correctly, was a lengthy one indeed, but nevertheless, Hermione was at it, sitting in her favorite chair in the common room after supper, lost in the thick Herbology volume. The fire was crackling and dancing merrily across the hearth, putting a cozy aura in the air.

Absorbing the chapter like a sponge thriving for knowledge, Hermione scribbled notes as she read, not wanting to forget a word about the plant. She glanced over her shoulder where her two best friends had their History of Magic books and rolls of parchment spread across a table on the other side of the room. Upon closer examination, Hermione realized they were "helping" each other complete their essays ("The Manticore Rebellion in the seventeenth century lead to the Dangerous Magical Creatures Act - discuss.") that were due the next day.

Getting up slowly, tucking her brown hair behind her ears, Hermione left her book on her chair and walked over to the both of them. "What are you two doing?"

Ron and Harry's necks snapped up. "Nothing!" Harry quickly exclaimed, his green eyes intense as he and Ron traded back each other's notes underneath the table.

Masking a smile, she said simply, "Oh, I see."

They both shrugged sheepishly, until Ron broke the silence. Jumping up quite suddenly, he stepped over to her and grabbed her hand in both of his, putting on a fake show of begging. "Oh, oh, please Miss Head Girl! Don't give us a detention! We meant well, honestly we did! It's just so much homework in so little time -"

"Ron!" She exclaimed, unable to control a small giggle from escaping her throat. "Exactly what are you confessing to?"

His face fell, comically. "You mean you don't know? Well, er, never mind, then -" He caught Harry's eye and the two of them broke out in laughter. Hermione even grinned, but any potential giggles halted as she looked down and noticed Ron was still clutching her hand. The perpetual tingle rippled through her. "Uh, Ron. . ." She prompted.

"Huh?" He turned from Harry and back to her.

Hermione shifted her eyes to their clasped hands, tilting her chin downwards until he finally got the point. Awkwardly, he took his strong hands away from her smaller, gentler one, turning slightly pink about the cheeks. "Er, sorry," he murmured.

"No!" She said quickly. "I just, er, sort of needed it back." Hermione forced a laugh to smooth things over, which worked, and Ron smiled appreciatively.

"So you're not going to report Harry and me?" He asked, his blue eyes smirking.

The young witch raised her eyebrows, suddenly turning to stride away. "Hey, I didn't see anything, remember?"

The redhead grinned and dropped back down with Harry again. "That's right, 'Mione. You're right, you didn't see or hear a thing."

Hermione grinned to herself and started back to curl in her chair once more, but was stopped by something that had caught the corner of her eye. On the message board, a new notice had been posted, one that she hadn't remembered seeing earlier that day. Stepping up closer to the board to get a better look, she mumbled, "What's this?"

Suddenly Ron was at her shoulder. "What's what?" He wanted to know, his eyes following Hermione stare at the new message.

Her brown eyes skimmed the piece of parchment for a moment. "Hogwarts is putting on a play!"

Ron looked over his shoulder, he and Harry sharing an intrigued look. Turning back to Hermione, the redhead said, "That's something we've never done here before. Go on, what else does it say?"

She lifted a finger to run across the paper, following the words manually. "Well, it says here that Professor McGonagall is overseeing tryouts for a play called Shadows." Hermione stopped abruptly. "You know, I remember seeing that book in Flourish and Blotts last fall. I hear it's made the Daily Prophet bestseller list."

Ron turned his gaze to her, smiling. "Yeah, you would know that, wouldn't you, 'Mione?"

"Oh, shut up," she replied, smacking his stomach as a grin threatened to break out across her face. "It's about a young witch, barely eighteen years old, who becomes an Auror to find out who killed her parents."

Harry appeared next to Ron. "Boy, I could identify."

"But that's not all," Hermione continued. "The Auror chieftain, her boss so to speak, partners her up with another wizard, except that she sort of dislikes him because she doesn't like having partners." And then, as an afterthought, she said softly, "But they end up getting along."

Ron glanced at her for a moment, and then looked back at the poster. "You've read it, have you?" He said pointedly.

"Well, yeah," Hermione said sheepishly. "Sometimes I like to slip in a little wizard literature from time to time."

"So does this mean you're going to try out for a part in it?"

She shrugged. "Well, it says here that the tryout meeting is this Friday after the evening meal, around nine o'clock."

The redhead looked sideways at her. "Well, that didn't really answer my question."

Hermione, stepping away from the message board, returned Ron's glance, lifted her shoulders and let them drop. She stepped over to her chair, picked up her Herbology book that was lying there, and stammered, "I've, er, got this chapter to read. . ."

Ron nodded. "Sure," he replied simply, rejoining Harry to finish their History of Magic essays.

She stood there for a moment, watching her two friends, a few selected thoughts racing through her mind. A moment passed and she started, then Hermione abruptly snatched up her rucksack and started for the portrait hole. "Well, I'm off to the library," she said breezily. "I'll see you later."

After she'd disappeared, Harry glanced up at Ron, who was still staring in the direction of the portrait hole. "Hey, mate. Essay." Putting down his quill, the raven-haired wizard snapped his fingers in front of his best friend's face. "Wake up, there!"

Ron blinked. "Oh, oh yeah." He picked up his quill and lowered it to his homework, but didn't write. "Where do you think she's going?"

Harry arched an eyebrow. "Er, Ron. . .maybe. . .the library. . .as she said. . .?"

"No," he disagreed. "Not with the way she just flew out of here like that. Hermione's got something up her sleeve, I can tell."

"Crikey," Harry replied, a knowing smile coming over his face. "I swear, Ron, sometimes I think you know Hermione better than she knows herself." He paused, and then said, "Does she now?"

The redhead peered enigmatically at his friend, and then looked back down at his report. "She does," he said simply, though inside it wasn't nearly that simple at all.

***

All during the rest of the week, Hermione hadn't seen too much of Ron. Though she'd been busy with homework, her Head Girl duties, and running lines for the tryout meeting for the play - in secret, after having picked up a script from Professor McGonagall, she was still surprised that her favorite red-haired imp was barely around. She'd asked Harry a couple of times where Ron might be, but he said he wasn't too sure what their best friend was up to lately.

Finally it was Friday evening, the day Hermione had been anticipating all week long. She'd hurriedly breezed through the rest of her homework after lessons were over for the day, and rushed down to dinner and back up to her dormitory again without waiting on Ron or Harry, wanting to reserve as much time as possible to practice her lines before the tryout.

Soon enough, eight o'clock had arrived. Hermione didn't want to appear overly desperate for a part, so she took a few minutes more studying her lines before going to downstairs and out the portrait hole to the Great Hall.

Harry and a few other Gryffindors were scattered about, Hermione noticed as she entered the common room. Confused she didn't see Ron anywhere, she at last shrugged her shoulders, said goodbye to Harry, and left, clutching tightly onto her script as she climbed out of the hole and clambered down the corridor for the stairs.

Apparently she'd been too busy running lines with herself as she walked, because Hermione certainly didn't see a tall figure coming from the opposite way, heading for the staircase as well. Brushing quickly down them and making her way towards the Great Hall, where some quiet chattering could be heard inside, Hermione barely even noticed the unknown person that had been behind her follow her inside, only a few yards beyond her.

***

"As some of you may know, whom have read the book, Shadows is a very epic story, written by Matilda Krupnik, having gotten to the top of the Daily Prophet bestseller list only a few months ago," Professor McGonagall was saying, the throng of students she was speaking to listening attentively.

Hermione, who was among them, was standing up straight, paying close attention to the older witch as she always did. Clutching her script tightly in her hands, she hoped that Professor McGonagall would start calling people for the tryout soon.

But the elderly witch wasn't quite through with her talk yet. "The play's heroine is Laura Owens, an eighteen-year-old Auror on a journey to discover who killed her parents. She's a very independent, intelligent, compassionate character, something I hope you will keep in mind if you are reading for her part.

"The play's hero," McGonagall went on, "is Ethan Maris. What I want for you to remember is that he is an emotionally strong individual, helpful, and wise, and comes to care very deeply for Laura, because he is very concerned for her situation.

"Now," she unrolled a long sheet of parchment. "When I call your name, please step forward and I will prompt you for the part you have had me write down for yourself. Meanwhile, feel free to practice your lines, and see me if there are any questions."

Hermione let out a long breath she'd been subconsciously holding in. As the throng broke apart, she found a chair on the outskirts of the floor to seat herself in, as she read over the part of Laura Owens for the thousandth time. I know I can do this, she thought to herself, the green-inked words on the page becoming a blur as she stared at them. I can get this part, I'm a lot like Laura herself.

Hermione reviewed her script and carried on with her mental pep talk for another ten minutes, until she at last heard Professor McGonagall call out the words that made the bottom drop out of her stomach.

"Hermione Granger, front and center, if you please!"

Slowly she rose from her chair, straightened the hem of her robes, and tucked her brown hair behind her ears as she approached her teacher, script in hand. Shifting her weight from one foot to another, Hermione glanced up and waited for McGonagall to cue her.

"Page two of act four, Miss Granger, when you're ready."

The young witch quickly flipped to the page, trying to ignore the pairs of eyes from the others, staring at her and waiting. Without hesitation, Hermione found Laura's first line on the page, and started in.

"You don't even know me!" She exclaimed. "You don't even know, Ethan, how long I've been at this, journeying from all ends of the Earth, trying to find even one, single shred of a clue as to who killed my mum and dad!"

As Hermione continued, she was relieved to realize that she barely even needed to refer to the script, as she had already been through it plenty of times. Her tryout seemed to last forever, but then, at last, Professor McGonagall gave her a smile and said, "Thank you, Miss Granger. That will be all."

Letting out an enormous sigh, feeling the worst was over, Hermione retreated to her chair and dropped down into it. Deciding to hang around for a few moments longer to watch her classmates perform their tryouts, she relaxed in her seat and opened her copy of the script to follow along.

As it turned out, the only other girls trying out for Laura were a Hufflepuff, two Ravenclaws, and Hermione's Gryffindor classmate, Lavender Brown. But after they all had had their turns, Hermione was pretty sure she had read the best. Feeling a bit more at ease than she had been ten minutes ago, she slipped quietly from the Great Hall and to the kitchens for some pumpkin juice to refresh herself.

When Hermione had returned, toting a gobletful of the delicious orange liquid, she noticed Professor McGonagall was calling up the boys reading for the part of Ethan now.

Just as long as Draco Malfoy's not one of them, Hermione thought wryly, settling back into her chair once more, raising the cup to her lips, I won't have a problem with whomever the Professor picks to be Ethan.

"Ronald Weasley, I believe you're next!"

Suddenly Hermione choked, spewing pumpkin juice all over and nearly dropping her goblet. A few concerned looks came her way, but a few students looked disapprovingly at her, for causing a scene. As the curly-haired witch glanced up, wiping her mouth on the cuff of her robes, she shot a quick glance at Ron, whom was looking amusedly at her.

Professor McGonagall glanced across the room at her, asking nicely, "Are you all right, Miss Granger?"

"Perfectly. Please don't let me interrupt, Professor," Hermione replied, smiling politely, mustering some Head Girl courtesy.

Except that she could not tear her cinnamon eyes away from Ron as he opened up his purple, leather-bound script and began to recite the selected part of Ethan out of Shadows. "Ron Weasley, participating in a school function?" She murmured to herself. "Heavens, that's a milestone."

Ron was reading in a soothing, compromising voice, much like the character he was auditioning for. "I realize how hard these past years have been for you, Laura, but you can't let it ruin your life. But if you're really serious about taking on this assignment, well, I'm behind you."

My stars, Hermione thought as she continued to watch her best friend's tryout. I wish everyone else knew like I did that Ron's really just as loyal and concerned as Ethan is. He really is great in the part.

As did Hermione's, Ron's audition seemed to go on for a time, but at last it was finally over and she finally had a chance to share a few interested words with him.

***

Ron and Hermione accompanied each other back to the common room, walking side-by-side, but not really speaking very much. The tryouts for the play had just adjourned, and the two Gryffindors were looking to finish their last bits of homework and then shuffle upstairs to the dormitories to bed.

Hermione walked slowly, trying for a casual stroll. It was the first time in a few weeks that she could actually walk somewhere in the castle without the need to rush there. She let out a deep sigh, and then turned to glance sideways at Ron, deciding to finally break the silence.

"Ronald Weasley, why didn't you tell me?" She inquired.

The redhead looked over at her, a small smile tugging at his mouth. "Oh, I don't know. . .maybe for all the same reasons you didn't either."

"I, er, I thought you'd just laugh at me," she told him softly, wringing her hands. "But hardly would be the case, as you had the same motives I did!"

"Well, I had a good idea that that's what you were up to this past week, but since you didn't say anything, I didn't say anything," Ron admitted as they turned a corner.

Hermione sort of nodded, and there was silence between them for a few moments. "So, uh, that's must've been where you got off to all this week. Rehearsing your lines?"

"Yeah." Abruptly, Ron's face was twinged with pink, and with his next words Hermione figured out why. "You know, I, er, sort of missed hanging around with you this week, being so busy with practicing for my audition, that is."

She smiled warmly. "Yeah, I did too, Ron."

He returned her smile, and then they were engulfed in silence yet again. But by this time, they had reached the Fat Lady, and after Hermione gave the password ("Boysenberry") they both clambered awkwardly through.

The common room was pretty much empty now and, as Hermione gathered up the schoolbooks she had left on a nearby table, she glanced over at Ron. "Professor McGonagall is posting up the cast list tomorrow night, you know."

"Is she?" Ron replied, standing nearby, watching her gather her school things. "Do you think you got the part?"

Hermione was quiet for a moment, and then at last nodded. "Yeah, I think so. I mean, I really hope I do, I worked hard." She paused, and then asked him, "How about you?"

"I don't know. I think McGonagall kind of thought Ernie MacMillan had a good tryout," Ron told her, sighing.

"No," she said, quite abruptly. "You were the best. I've read the book -"

"Of course," he put in, smirking.

" - I know what Ethan's character is like," Hermione continued, rolling her eyes amusedly at his comment. "You're just like him."

"Thanks, 'Mione," Ron said, one of his genuine smiles finding its way onto his face.

Her heart fluttered, as it always did when he called her that, " 'Mione", his own special nickname for her. "Well, you're surely welcome." She paused, grasping her books closely, and mounted the bottom stair on the way up to the girls' dormitory. Turning back around, she said softly, "Well, goodnight, Ron."

"Goodnight," he echoed, his tone identical to hers.

He turned then, starting for his room, but suddenly Hermione reached out and touched his shoulder, stopping him. "Wait a minute."

Ron faced her once more. "Yeah?"

"I was, uh, I was just wondering something," Hermione said, hesitating for a moment. ". . .Why - why did you tryout for the part? I mean, I never would've thought it would have been something you'd be interested in."

Ron sort of smiled, and then shrugged. "I don't know, I guess I. . . just wanted to try my hand at it. You sort of just convinced me to go for it."

Her brow furrowed. "How'd I do that?"

"Well, you just seemed like you were interested in it, and I. . .wanted to be a part of something you were interested. . .in. . ." He stammered, fumbling for some words to link together.

Hermione suddenly blushed. "Thank you, Ron," she said earnestly.

Words seemed to fail him, and all he could do was smile at her. At last she broke the quiet, saying, "Well, pleasant dreams."

"You too," the redhead replied softly, turning around again.

She watched him for a moment as he mounted the staircase, and then Hermione dashed up her own and started down the hallway for the door to her dormitory, swaying slightly.

Get a hold of yourself, Granger, she told herself. It was just about the play. That's all it is.

But then that little nagging voice in the back of her head chose to put in its two cents as well, resounding in Hermione's mind. Yes, maybe, but you know as well as I do that you wanted Ron to kiss you just then down there.

The young witch quite suddenly stamped her foot against the carpet. Stop it, Brain! Stop it!

***

The seventh-year girls' dormitory was vacant the next morning when Hermione woke the next morning, realizing it to be when she wrenched open the curtains around her four-poster and saw that everyone else's beds were empty and made. It immediately dawned on her that she'd slept in, and so Hermione hurriedly changed clothes and carried some books down to the common room with her. She hated sleeping late, even if it was a Saturday.

"Hey, Hermione! You missed breakfast!"

She darted around, trying to find the owner of the voice. Then she realized, when she saw him sitting on the sofa in front of the fire, polishing his Firebolt.

"Oh," she breathed, touching her collarbone. "It's you, Harry. You startled me."

"Sorry," Harry replied, then started shuffling through his Broomstick Servicing Kit, a birthday gift Hermione remembered buying him nearly four years ago. He looked back up at her, brushing his jet-black hair out of his eyes. "You must have been tired. I've never known you to sleep through the whole morning."

She shrugged, sitting down in her chair and opening up Advanced Arithmancy, Grade 7. "Ah well, I'm not very hungry anyways." Hermione paused. "Say, where's Ron?"

Harry scratched his head. "Well, to be honest, I don't really know. He was up even before me, and I had Quidditch practice."

"Hmm," she murmured, shuffling through the pages of her book until she found the right chapter. Hermione propped up the book, attempting to study, but found she couldn't even get past the first page. Her mind was elsewhere, racing, cutting off everything else in the room.

She didn't know how much time had passed before Harry's voice cut through the fog, but suddenly it had; he was trying to ask her something. Hermione blinked, and then looked over at her friend. "What did you say?"

Harry smiled for some reason. "I knew you weren't listening. What I said was, how did the tryouts go last night? Do you think you got the lead?"

Her brow furrowed as she looked at him. "How'd you know about my audition?"

"Ron told me last night, after he'd come up to bed. Said he had an audition too, crazy as it sounds. I never would have expected anything like that from Ron," Harry said.

"Me either," Hermione replied. "But he was there. He was pretty good too, even though I don't think he'll admit it. I'm pretty sure Professor McGonagall will cast him."

He looked intrigued. "Do you now? Ron?"

At that very moment, as it worked out, the subject matter himself came clambering through the portrait hole, the Shadows script in his hands. When he noticed Harry and Hermione both staring at him, he turned slightly pink, saying, "What?"

"Where've you been, mate?" Harry wanted to know.

"N-nowhere, just, er, off. . .reading. . .in the library," Ron stammered, walking over and dropping down on the sofa. "Anyone for some Exploding Snap?" He shuffled around in his pocket for the deck of cards.

"I'm game," Harry replied, laying his Firebolt and Servicing Kit aside, and the pair walked over to the table where Hermione was sitting and sat down. "Hermione?"

"No, that's all right. I've got this studying to do." Peering over the top of her book, she noticed that Ron had laid the play script he'd been carrying right down next to her spellbooks she'd brought downstairs. Could that have been the "reading" he was doing? She thought.

Meticulously, Hermione closed Advanced Arithmancy, Grade 7, and slowly drew her hand forward to pick up the script. As she opened it up, she noticed that all of Ethan's lines were highlighted, apparently done by Ron. Now she was extremely intrigued; how serious Ron was about the audition and the play. She peered at him as he played cards with Harry, the only thought going through her head being - why?

***

That evening, Hermione wasn't sure whether she wanted to rush through dinner or spend as much time in the Great Hall as possible, as Professor McGonagall would be displaying the cast list on the message board after the evening meal was over. As she glanced across the table and up at Ron, she noticed he wasn't saying very much either.

Finally, screwing up all her courage, Hermione decided to go upstairs. As she stood, Harry and Ron glanced at her, and she returned their gaze, saying, "Are you coming?"

The Gryffindor common room was buzzing as the trio stepped through the portrait hole and inside. Ron's eyes never left Hermione; anyone could tell she was awfully anxious. Not that he could blame her, he was too. But possibly. . . in a slightly different way.

Slowly she stepped towards the message board, gluing her eyes to the scroll of parchment pinned there, with a list adorned upon it in scarlet ink. As Hermione came even closer, she could feel Ron over her shoulder. The scroll said:

HOGWARTS SCHOOL

of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY

SHADOWS

CAST LIST

Laura Owens

Hermione Granger

"Hermione!"

Before she could stop herself, Hermione turned around and hugged the nearest person to her, which just happened to be Ron. Tightening her arms around his neck, she squealed, "I can't believe it! I've got the lead role! I'm going to play Laura!"

Ron grinned, returning her embrace. "That's great, 'Mione!" He exclaimed, meaning every word. "Congratulations!"

Suddenly she let go of him, stopping to stare at him for a moment. "Well, what about you? Let's see if Professor McGonagall cast you!"

They both turned back around to look at the list once more, their eyes scanning the page, but Hermione noticed it first, right with hers:

Ethan Maris

Ron Weasley

She felt truly like she wanted to jump up and down, but as Hermione stared at their names there, both of them playing the two male and female lead roles in the play, she could only feel her heartbeat going as crazy as her nerves felt right now.

" 'Mione, 'Mione, look!" He exclaimed, pulling on the sleeve of her robes. "Hey, I got it! We're both in the play together!"

Hermione smiled at her best friend. "I saw! That's wonderful!"

That was when Ron grinned lopsidedly back at her. "Guess that means we'll be running lines together."

***

Soon enough it was Monday and back to class again, to everyone's dismay. However, the lunch bell was just about to ring and so the students were antsy for the last few moments of class to end.

Hermione, though, wasn't particular about the end of class, and she remained composed in her seat in Professor McGonagall's class, Advanced Transfiguration propped open in front of her. Ron, whom was seated next to her, had packed up his rucksack some minutes ago and (even though Hermione didn't look, but she could feel it) was watching her intently. She said nothing; Hermione just pressed the book closer to her, staring hard at the words, without really reading them, just waiting for Ron to stop staring at her.

Finally she couldn't take it anymore, letting the spellbook drop to the table with a loud thunk, and said, trying to keep her voice even, "What? What is it, Ron?"

A blush crept up onto his cheeks quite suddenly, and he started to fiddle with a button on his robes. At last looking back up, when most of the rouge had subsided, "When's our first practice? You know. . .for the play and all. . .with everyone."

"Oh," Hermione interjected, touching her forehead, racking her brain. "Wednesday, I think. Wednesday night. . . eight o'clock, I believe."

"Do you want to run lines this evening, after dinner?" Ron asked hopefully. "Or are you too busy with that Arithmancy whatsits?"

Her neck shot up, he was smiling amusedly at her; he'd been joking. Sighing, Hermione ruffled her nutmeg curls, at long last saying, "No, no. We can rehearse together, if you want." She returned his smile.

The bell rang.

With the screech of chairs being pushed in, the students slung their school bags over their shoulders and began filing out of the room. Ron and Hermione were just rejoining Harry when Professor McGonagall called out to them.

"Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley, if you please."

Hermione felt her heart skip a beat as she and Ron turned back around and slipped up to the Transfiguration teacher's desk. Please don't tell me we've gotten in to trouble for talking, she fretted. How awful would be for the Head Girl to lose points for her House. . .

Professor McGonagall obviously noticed Hermione's worried look, for she said, "Don't worry, Miss Granger. You're not in trouble. Quite the contrary." She paused, folding her hands on her desktop. "I wanted to tell the two of you congratulations on your tryouts last week, and for making the parts. You were both very splendid indeed."

Hermione felt herself go scarlet and mumbled, "Thank you, Professor." She looked over at Ron and saw that he was looking pleased himself.

"And you both know that you will have to work hard to maintain your parts, and that you must be fully committed to this, am I correct?" McGonagall inquired.

"Of course, Professor," Hermione said earnestly.

"Yes, madam," came Ron's reply.

"Therefore, because of this, I am allowing you and all of the others in the production to be exempt from end-of-the-year exams."

Ron looked extremely relieved by this news, while Hermione was thunderstruck.

Professor McGonagall noticed this and gave the young witch one of her rare smiles. "No need to look so put out, Miss Granger. You'll be grateful for the extra time." She paused. "As you are both seventh year students, though, you will be responsible for making sure that you get your N.E.W.T.s taken at the end of the year. As long as you maintain your regular schoolwork, this will not pose a problem."

"Thank you, Professor," Hermione said softly, Ron following suit.

She dismissed them a few moments later and they left together, strolling up the corridor and towards the Great Hall. Every moment or so she glanced over at him, her eyes filled with wonder but not quite knowing what to think.

***

Sitting on the corner of her four-poster that evening, Hermione was rolling up her Charms homework, twisting the long scroll of parchment between her hands. But even after it had fully rolled up, her fingers remained clenched about it, not realizing that the job was done. But after all, her mind was elsewhere; thinking about the play, thinking about Ron.

Lavender, Parvati, and the others had promised to stay out of the dormitory for a few hours as Ron was coming up to run lines with Hermione, so that they could have some privacy. But instead of feeling grateful, the young witch was a nervous wreck. Being alone with Ron felt like a little too much to take right now, especially when she was still agonizing over her emerging feelings for him.

Scoffing at herself as she looked down and noticed she was still winding up the already-rolled-up homework, Hermione hastily reached over and picked up her rucksack, stuffing the parchment inside. Simultaneously she drew her hand in and pulled out the purple theater script, Shadows, by Matilda Krupnik, peering up at her in silvery letters.

She put her bag down and flipped the script open, running her fingers absentmindedly across the smooth papyrus pages. Same as always, the scarlet-inked words stared at her, as if demanding to be read.

A tap emitted on the other side of the door, causing Hermione's heart to lurch. Slowly, she got up and started for the door, turning the knob in a smooth fashion and creaking open the elegant old oak door. "H-hi, Ron," she greeted softly, opening the door wider to let him inside.

"Hey, 'Mione," he replied, coming in. He dropped down onto her four-poster bed, clutching his script.

Hermione hesitated for a moment, and then sat next to him, drawing her legs up to sit Indian-style. "Well," she murmured, flipping her script open. "How about we just start on page seven, and -"

"Well, wait a minute," Ron replied, looking up at her. "You. . .you've read the book, haven't you, 'Mione?"

"Yes, remember? I have it," she told him.

"Well. . .tell me about it."

Hermione was confused. "How do you mean?"

He shifted a bit, trying to get comfortable. "The book. Tell me what the book's about."

Her brow furrowed. "Well, you've read the script surely, haven't you, Ron?"

"Most of it. But I wanted to hear about the story," he replied.

"Let me think for a moment." Absentmindedly she reached up a twirled one of her nutmeg curls around her finger, straining her brain in attempt to summarize the book for him. "Well, what you've got to understand right away is that it's a very dynamic story," Hermione started. "Laura is only our age. Her parents have been killed, and no one knows why. All Laura is set on is finding the killer, and so she goes off to join the Auror Corps." She paused.

"Don't stop now," Ron said.

"I know, I'm just trying to remember." Hermione chewed her lip, trying to think. Finally she looked back up at him. "Okay, well, she hasn't been there very long before the Auror chieftain partners her with Ethan, like I said the other day. Their partnership starts out rocky, because Ethan senses her pain and wants to help her, but she just shuts him off, because she doesn't like having to work with someone."

Ruffling her hair, she sighed and continued. "Ethan already cares about her very much, but its a long while before Laura finally comes around. And then. . ."

Ron's eyebrows drew up, prompting her, so she went on. "Well, they, er, become closer."

"Well, what about her parents? Do Ethan and Laura track down the killer?"

Hermione smiled knowingly. "Well, Ron Weasley, I suggest you read the rest of the script to find that out for yourself."

He rolled his eyes, but offered one of his charming lopsided smiles for her. "That's you all right, 'Mione. Forever advising one to consult a book."

"Yes, so how about now, Act Two, page seven, your line," she replied, opening her script.

"Oh, oh yeah," Ron stammered, following suit. His blue eyes scanned the page for a moment, and then he started. "You told me you lived with your grandmother."

Hermione glanced over at him, filling her voice with emotion as she read. "Is this your attempt at small talk?"

"How has she been?"

"Why? Why do you care, Ethan?"

Ron seemed to be watching her closely. "Because I care."

Hermione gritted her teeth, rising from her bed and crossing to the other side of the room. She barely needed to look from the script, the entire play was already in her head, as all books she read were. "Corking wit, Ethan, but I'm not really up to listening."

The redhead stood as she did, but didn't take any steps towards her. "How has your grandmother been, Laura?" His line was pressing.

"I reckon she's fine! There! Satisfied?"

Ron gaped at her for a moment. "Crikey, you're so convincing."

Hermione rolled her eyes, walking back over to him. "Ron, that's not your line."

"Sorry," he apologized, his ears turning pink. "But you are."

"Well, I'm supposed to, aren't I?" She smiled wryly.

"Yes, but. . .already? You sound like you've practiced for weeks!" Ron exclaimed, dropping back down onto Hermione's four-poster.

"Well, I know the play, Ron. I know the book." She followed suit, sitting next to him, and traced her finger across the scarlet bedspread. "I know Laura."

"Do you?" He was interested.

Hermione suddenly fumbled with her script, the pages tumbling over in her hands. "Well, I, er, know it sounds silly and all, her being a fictional character, but somehow I feel a kinship with her." She looked meaningfully back up at him. "Don't you feel that way? About Ethan?"

"I, er, I haven't really gotten to know the story completely, yet," he admitted. "I feel like a prat to have tried out now."

"Don't say that!" She suddenly exclaimed, gripping his arm just above the elbow. "I know Ethan, too, and I know that you're great for him. Now when I think about him, I think about you."

Ron's blue eyes bore into her cinnamon ones. "Thanks, 'Mione."

Hermione tensed, feeling the closeness of the moment, his warm breath up against her cheek, and his lean body inches from hers. She knew that if they were any closer, they could probably kiss comfortably without any trouble. But the moment was more than she could bear.

He blinked back at her, the closeness reflected in his eyes. "Well," he whispered. "I guess, I. . .I'm going to go now." Slowly Ron stood up, clutching his script.

"You don't have to leave, we've still got some time," Hermione replied, watching him walk towards the door.

"No, no, I'm just really beat, that's all." He twisted the knob open on the door, and then turned to look back at her. He did so for a long moment, and then said, "Well, see you at breakfast, 'Mione."

She nodded, saying, "Herbology."

"Herbology," he repeated, smiling, and then was gone, the door creaking closed behind him.

Hermione stared at the door for a long time, and then fell back onto her bed, sighing wistfully.

***

A week or two passed at Hogwarts, including more homework, more play rehearsals, and more energy draining from Hermione. Just as Professor McGonagall had said she would be, the Head Girl was relieved that she didn't have to worry about final exams and could just concentrate on the play. This, too, for an everyday student, would include not worrying as much about homework, but Hermione was determined to stay on top of things. As she often told herself, just because she was in the play didn't mean she shouldn't still be learning, what, after all, she was at Hogwarts for.

But at long last Hermione rolled up her Arithmancy homework she'd been feverishly trying to finish, stuffed it away, and reached for her script. It was Friday evening, and she and Ron had planned to run lines together again. As she sat on her four-poster and opened her script to Act Four, she glanced at the clock on the wall. Ron was due at any time now.

Finally there was a knock on her door, and like the many times the past two weeks, Hermione opened it up to reveal her favorite redhead standing at threshold in front of her. Managing a smile for him, though she was a bit drowsy, she said softly, "Hey there."

Ron stepped inside as she opened the door wider to let him inside, and sat down on her bed and watched her close the door and walk over to him. His blue eyes flickered with concern. "You look tired."

"I guess the homework and play rehearsals are really starting to wear on me," she replied, sitting across from him and picking her script back up.

"Well, 'Mione, why are you still trying to do everything?" He asked, his voice sympathetic. "You heard McGonagall. We don't have to take finals; you can afford to miss a few assignments." Ron paused. "Didn't the Time-Turner teach you a lesson about doing too much?"

"Yeah, I know," she agreed, sighing. "But school is important to me, and I feel that I shouldn't take the fact that I'm in play for granted, you know, because it gets me out of exams week."

He looked at her for a moment, and then said softly, "You know, if you're too tired to run lines, we can just skip it until tomorrow."

Hermione covered her mouth as a wide yawn escaped her throat. "That would be nice of you, Ron, thanks." She fell backwards, from her sitting position on the bed, burying her face up against the fluffy pillow.

Ron laughed softly to himself, and then gently pulled Hermione script out of her hands, lying it on her nightstand. Unbuckling her Mary Janes, the redhead laid them on the floor beside the bed and reached for the hem of the bedspread, carefully tugging it from underneath Hermione's lithe body. Draping it over her, Ron then slipped his wand out his pocket, waving it at the number of levitating candles overhead, which promptly winked out.

Kissing her forehead, Ron whispered, "Goodnight, 'Mione," smiled, and slipped quietly from the dormitory.

***

On his Firebolt, Harry could see the tiny, sparkling Snitch hovering in the air before him, fluttering its minute silver wings. Summoning a burst of speed from his broomstick, the raven-haired boy's hand shot out, plucking the golden ball from the air with an agility from only a Seeker like himself could possess. Below him was Ron at the goal posts, grinning up at his best friend and calling out, "Wicked job, mate!"

"Thanks," the Quidditch captain breathed, leaning forward on his Firebolt and feeling his feet touch to the grass. Ron followed suit, as did the others, and Harry walked around, gathering the Quaffle and, with a little help from Ron, the Beaters.

It was Saturday morning, and the Gryffindor team's Quidditch practice was just adjourning. As the rest of the team gathered up their brooms and started off the pitch, Harry called out, "Great job today, guys!" He turned back to Ron, who was kneeling on the grass and having a struggle with one of the Beaters as he buckled it into the box. "Problems, mate?"

The redhead knocked the annoying black ball with one of the clubs, and then quickly slammed the box closed and locked it. "Not anymore," he said wryly, and he and Harry both took either end of the trunk.

As they walked together up the pitch and towards the castle, Harry asked casually, "So how's rehearsals?"

"Okay," Ron replied simply. "Everyone's doing a pretty great job, learning their lines and everything. It's taken me awhile, but I've finally gotten a lot of mine down. We might even be ready to perform it on time."

"That's good news," Harry replied, and then smiled knowingly. "But I meant -" his voice dropped lower, "How's rehearsals. . . with Hermione."

The redhead was quiet for a long moment, before finally responding, "We're getting a lot closer."

Harry creaked open the front doors and the duo slipped inside, making their way down the marble corridor to Madam Hooch's office to put away the Quidditch things. As they turned a corner, hefting the box, the jet-haired boy said, "Have you told her?"

Another silence from Ron gave Harry the answer. Dropping his shoulders, he sighed. "Why haven't you told her?"

They reached Madam Hooch's office. Harry pushed open the door as Ron followed, and the slipped the trunk inside the Quidditch cabinet and latched it. As the left the room, the redhead looked over at his best friend and said, "I'm nervous, mate. It's not exactly an easy thing to do, you know, to walk right up to her and say, 'Hermione, I lo -"

But he cut himself off very, very suddenly when, as the two were turning the corner to go up the dormitory, Hermione appeared with a warm smile to greet them. "Hey you two. Sorry I didn't come to practice. I overslept."

Harry concealed a grin as he saw Ron blush slightly at what he'd almost said. "Oh, that's all right, Herm," he replied, as his redhead companion was still trying to hook some coherent words together. "No harm done, we were just going up to the dorms to change clothes."

"I brought you some toast, since you had to miss breakfast." Hermione joined them as they started up the staircase to the Gryffindor common room, as the three of them munched on the toast and marmalade. At last reaching the Fat Lady, Hermione gave the password, ("Poseidon") and they all clambered through.

The boys started for the staircase up to their room, but Hermione hung back, lying a hand on Ron's shoulder. "Can I have a quick word, Ron?"

Harry shot him a quick look, and then started up the steps alone, smiling to himself, as Ron said, "Sure, 'Mione. Why don't we sit down over here?" He followed her to the red velvet sofa, where the yellow flames of the fire were dancing merrily, and said, "So, what's up?"

"I'm feeling much better today," she replied softly.

He gave her a warm smile. "I'm so glad. You were really out of it last night."

"Yeah," Hermione returned the smile, "I've decided to take a little easier on my studying. After all, I've got a play to practice for!" She gave a cheery laugh. "So, I was thinking. . .did you want to run lines later on? I've cleared the whole day so that we could."

Ron nodded, his smile growing a bit wider. "Okay! How about I change my clothes and meet you in your dorm again?"

"That sounds nice. Just come up when you're ready." Hermione rose from the sofa, starting for the staircase leading up to the girls' dormitories, Ron following suit, only heading towards his.

***

"Laura, why do you always shut me out all of time? Why can't you open up your heart and be friends with somebody? I know how hard it's probably been for you these past months, but -"

"You don't even know me! You don't even know, Ethan, how long I've been at this, journeying from all ends of the Earth, trying to find even one, single shred of a clue as to who killed my mum and dad! You can't know how hard it's been, so don't even try!"

Ron stared at Hermione as she stood over at the window, her jaw clenched and her eyes closed. She knew all of her lines now, and was trying now to rehearse the first scene of Act Four with Ron, without goofing up any of her lines. It was just after the evening meal, and they were now putting in some practice-time.

The redhead laid his script aside, got up from Hermione four-poster, and slowly walked over to her. "I don't want to know, Laura. I just want to help you."

She turned away. "Well, I don't need your help."

"Sure you do," he said. "You need someone to talk to Laura, someone who can understand, and someone who will help you feel better. You need a friend."

Hermione paused, and then picked up. "And you're my friend, Ethan?"

"Only if you'll let me." Ron smiled, and then reached out and gave his best friend's shoulder a friendly tap. "Spectacular job, 'Mione. That's the end of the scene."

She let out a breath and rubbed her brow, following Ron over to the four-poster, where they sat across from one another. "I'm really getting this!" She looked up, smiling. "And so are you! I can't believe how sympathetic you've made your voice go during rehearsals. It's like, to me, you really are Ethan."

The redhead smiled sheepishly. "Thanks," he murmured. Abruptly he looked up, an earnest edge in his voice. "Why is she so cold with Ethan, when's he's only trying to help her?"

"Laura?" Hermione ruffled her hair, a habit she'd gotten into when she was thinking. "Well," she finally said, "With her parents murdered, she feels very resentful. And when Ethan tries to be nice to her, Laura gets angry with him because she thinks he pities her."

"But he doesn't."

"No," she agreed. "Actually, he. . .loves her."

They were both quiet for a long moment, not looking at each other and not knowing what to say. Finally Ron broke the silence, trying to change the subject but his words still sort of about the previous subject. "I, er, I've finally gotten the whole play read."

Hermione looked up at him. "You did? That's great, Ron."

"Surely you have as well, I take it?" He asked, not quite meeting her eyes.

Her brow furrowed, not quite knowing what he was getting at it. "Well, of course I have. You know I have."

"Well, then. . .?"

"Well then, what?"

Ron nervously ran a hand through his hair, and said, "Well, you know what we have to do then, don't you?"

Hermione was still puzzled. "Ron, would you just come out with it?"

Hesitantly he shifted his blue eyes up to meet hers, and then said, as evenly as he could, without his voice shaking, "We. . .we have to. . .we have to kiss."

"What?!"

"We do," he insisted, picking up his copy of the script. "At the end of Act Four." Ron opened it up for her and showed her the page. She took it and stared at it for a long moment, and then handed it back.

"My stars, I forgot all about that! I hadn't thought, I hadn't imagined -" Hermione jumped up from her bed and crossed back over to the window again. "What are we going to do, Ron?"

He almost could have laughed. "Well, we'll just have to kiss, won't we?"

She rolled her eyes, saying sardonically, "Funny. But you know what I meant."

"Maybe," the redhead shrugged, standing up. "But what I think we're going to have to do is - rehearse it."

Hermione's piercing brown eyes shot in his direction. "Are you mad? Rehearse a kiss?"

"Well, why not?" Ron insisted. "It's part of the play, just like everything else! If it's going to be a success, that means everything has to be done just right! And that means the kiss! It has to look real so everyone believes it - for the play's sake!"

Her heart was racing by now, and now she was finding it hard to string some syllables together as a response, and at last she mumbled, "Oh, all right. Get over here."

He hesitated for a moment, and then stepped slowly over to her. "Er, now what?"

"Say your line."

"Oh!" He exclaimed, then bit his lip for a moment and tried to recall it. Finally he did, saying, "Laura, when I told you I wanted to help you, and that I wanted to be your friend, I meant that. But I want to be more than your friend."

"I know."

Ron smiled, and knew that his next line wasn't just a line, but something he truly felt for the brown-eyed girl standing before him. "I love you."

They both hesitated, silence engulfing them then, and Hermione closed her eyes. "Well, go on. I'm ready."

His eyebrow arched. "Well, do you want me to, er, should I take your hand, or. . ." Ron stammered, going crimson.

"I don't care, don't worry about it. Just, do it. Just go on, and. . . kiss me."

He stepped closer, breathing deep and trying to call his shaky heart. Ron stared at Hermione for a long moment, and then, very delicately, leaned forward and covered her mouth with his. His original intent was just to make it short and sweet, but something happen that neither one of them expected.

It grew deeper.

Ron reached both his hands up and gently cradled her face, tilting his face slightly so that the kiss was more comfortable. He could feel Hermione's slender arms slide around his waist, give him a slight squeeze. It seemed to last forever, the both of them standing there and wrapped in such a timeless, passionate embrace.

Then at last they let go. Ron dropped his hands to his sides and stepped backwards a bit, opening his eyes. Hermione was just doing the same, but she blinked at Ron as if he'd just turned into a dragon. Sensing the awkwardness, he whispered, "Perhaps I'd better go. . ."

"All - all right then," Hermione said, very softly, her voice quivering. "Good-night."

"Good-night, 'Mione." Ron sort of nodded his head and then slipped through the doorway and out of sight.

She stared at the door for a very long time, as if she were in a trance. Then, finally, Hermione walked over to her four-poster, and then just let her body fall onto it, crashing against the blankets and scattered the throw pillows all about. She curled up against her pillow, hardly able to believe what had happened.

"Oh my stars," was all she could manage to murmur.

***

"She's avoiding me, Harry."

Harry Potter sighed at pancakes and sausages. It was Thursday morning, nearly a week later, and the two friends were seated at the Gryffindor table, eating breakfast, before heading off to their lessons. Presently, the duo were sitting alone, sans the subject matter herself. Ron was seated directly across from his best friend, poking his fork at his scrambled eggs.

Looking up at him, the raven-haired Quidditch captain arched an eyebrow. "You really think so, Ron?"

The redhead was obviously rattled. "Yes, mate. Hermione's definitely avoiding me. I mean, we had to rehearse the kiss for the play, and suddenly she's up and humiliated because we did. Can't she be grown up about it?"

"But it wasn't just rehearsal, was it, mate?" Harry said poignantly.

Ron shot him a piercing glance, and then at last, he sighed. "No. We sort of got. . .carried away. . ." His face was slowly becoming redder.

"Does she know that?"

Ron tousled his hair. "She must've, otherwise she wouldn't be going to such great lengths to avoid me!"

Harry shrugged, saying, not unkindly, "Maybe it's all just in your mind, mate."

The redhead dropped his elbows on the table and leaned forward. "All right then, how is this for it being all in my mind. Just yesterday, after you'd stopped to talk with Ginny, I started up the corridor for Trelawney's and Hermione's just up ahead, going to Ancient Runes. I went up to her to say hi and everything, but she barely stayed around for two seconds, saying she's late for class, and just - took off, like a shot!"

"So what's so wrong with that?" Harry said skeptically. "You know Hermione, always hurrying to get somewhere."

Ron rolled his eyes, replying, "Yes, but I don't really think that the broom closet constitutes as one of them."

His best friend sighed. "That's really got to sting, mate."

"I just wish she'd sit still for one minute and talk to me. It's not as if she can't dodge the subject forever."

"Well, you most definitely see her at rehearsals. Why don't you try meeting up with her afterwards?" Harry suggested.

Ron shook his head. "I did. It didn't work. She hurries and blends into the crowd and has already gone up to the dormitory by the time I've gotten back to the common room." His voice dropped suddenly. "I'm worried about her, to be honest. She'll probably try and bury herself back in homework to avoid me, and then she'll be right back to how she was when she had that ruddy Time-Turner."

"Maybe if you said something to McGonagall today, after Transfigs, about Hermione," Harry put in. "She might tell her to take it easy and not fret over homework so much, so that she can take her time on the play. Hermione wouldn't refuse an executive decision." He sort of laughed.

Ron nodded in response, and looked back down and starting picking at his breakfast again. Then, out of nowhere, and idea struck him and he bolted upright from his seat. "You know, Harry, I think I know just what to do."

"What?" His best friend wanted to know.

"No, not what," the redhead corrected. "Who."

***

The large Advanced Arithmancy, Grade 7, was opened up on the desk in front of Hermione and a long roll of parchment was spread out beside it, a number chart in progress. The nib of Hermione's eagle-feather quill was hovering just above the paper, eager to scratch away another number on the chart.

But before she could, a young Hufflepuff girl - a third year, probably - hesitantly came into the classroom, clutching a scrap of papyrus in her hand. Slowly she approached Professor Vector's desk, who was there grading homework.

"Yes?" The Arithmancy instructor inquired.

"The Deputy Headmistress sent me with this note," she said softly. "Professor Dumbledore has asked to see Hermione Granger."

Hermione's neck shot up in surprise, and she made eye-contact with Professor Vector, who nodded. "Go right on ahead, dear. The bell's about to go soon, so you might want to take your things."

Without a word, the Head Girl stuffed her textbook, parchment, and quill away in her rucksack, slung it over her shoulder, and followed the Hufflepuff girl out of the room. They reached the end of the hall before she turned, handing the slip of papyrus over to Hermione. "Do you know where Dumbledore's office is? Professor McGonagall ordered me to give you the note and get straight back to class."

"Of course," Hermione said curtly.

"Well, 'bye, then." The Hufflepuff girl shuffled off quickly, turning the next corner and out of sight.

All during the way to Professor Dumbledore's office, Hermione worried. Have I gotten into trouble? No, no, I couldn't've, I've been doing well upkeeping my Head Girl duties. . .it can't possibly be that. Then what else? I've been extra careful this year about getting into mischief with the boys. . .

Sooner than she would have liked, Hermione reached the stone gargoyle and, reading it off the scrap of papyrus, gave the password ("Peach Blossom"), and slowly mounted the winding staircase up to the Headmaster's door. Before she could knock, however, the door swung elegantly opened to admit her.

"Hello, Miss Granger."

The silver hair and beard of Albus Dumbledore was one of the elder man's striking features, and something Hermione often first noticed about the man. As she sat down in the chair in front of his desk, the professor's eyes twinkled from behind his half-moon spectacles.

"Er, Professor Dumbledore, if I may. . .?"

He smiled.

Hermione took it as an affirmative sign to continue, and so she did. "Well, I'm sort of concerned as of why I'm here. I haven't. . .done anything wrong, have I?"

"No, not all, Hermione. I just wanted to tell you about an interesting visit I had earlier with someone."

She was confused, but decided to be polite and asked, "Who might that be?"

"Oh, I believe you know him," Dumbledore replied, a hint of amusement in his voice. "Mr. Weasley asked a conference of me this morning, and it seems he is very worried about you."

Hermione swallowed a lump in her throat. "H-he is?"

"He tells me that you've been very subdued lately. He feels that you're working yourself too hard," he told her.

"Oh, well, you know, Professor, Ron and I are in the school play, and. . .well, it's important to me that I maintain my studies," she said quickly.

"Oh, of course," Dumbledore still had that bit of amusement filling his words. "But surely you remember your experiences with the Time-Turner, Miss Granger." He paused, and then said sympathetically, "You might want to consider taking things a bit easier on yourself and trying to relax and enjoy your final year. And if not for my sake, that I shall hope for Mr. Weasley's."

Hermione reddened quite suddenly, fumbling with the strap on her rucksack. "I promise I'll do that, Professor."

"Very well," he said curtly, and then smiled. "I do believe the bell has gone a few minutes ago, so you may go down to dinner."

She rose from the chair. "That's all?"

"Yes."

Hermione slung her bag over her shoulder and went for the door, stepping out and closing it behind her, but not before she murmured, "Thank you."

"Oh, Hermione?"

She pulled back the door again. "Yes, Professor?"

"How are you and Mr. Weasley coming along in rehearsals?" Dumbledore asked.

"Oh, er, um. . .v-very well, thank you, Professor," she stammered, and then pulled the door softly closed again.

The Headmaster's eyes twinkled.

***

"You went to Dumbledore?"

Ron's neck snapped up from The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 7, his intense blue eyes falling upon Hermione, who'd just clambered into the common room after a session in library. He and Harry's eyes swiveled over to each other, and then the raven-haired boy slipped from sight.

Getting up from the table and striding over to Hermione, he said, in a compromising voice, "I was worried about you. You wouldn't talk to me, or Harry as far as I know, at all, and I didn't want you to get in over your head with homework, trying to busy yourself to get away from things you'd rather not think about."

She stared at him. "And just what does that mean, Ron?"

"You know what it means."

"No I don't, and neither do you," she said shortly, dropping down into her usual chair. Ron crossed his arms and sighed at her remark, but she continued on anyways, changing her tone to a nicer one, "I'm willing to just get things back to before, if you are."

She thought she saw him roll his eyes but she wasn't sure, so Hermione simply dismissed it, merely looking up at Ron and waiting for his answer. At last he murmured, "Yeah, all right."

Dropping down on the red velvet sofa, he said, shaking off his frustrated demeanor, "When's the next rehearsal?"

"Not until next week," she replied, shifting to get more comfortable. "Let me know if you want to run lines, okay?" Hermione smiled.

"I've got my Charms homework to finish up, and I'll be in touch, all right?" Slowly Ron pulled himself off of the sofa and started for the table he and Harry had been previously sitting at, gathered up his spellbooks and parchment, and started for the boys' dormitories.

"Sure." Hermione reached for the schoolboy at the base of her chair, pulled out One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, and opened it up. But she'd barely gotten past the first sentence when she heard a loud smack, and suddenly Ron was standing in front of her once more, looking frustrated again.

"No."

Her brow furrowed as she put the book aside. "No, what, Ron?" She questioned.

"We're not going to do this, 'Mione. We're not going to brush it over and not talk about it. You're going to tell me why you chose to avoid me for a week, instead of telling me what was bothering you, like best friends are supposed to do," he told her, crossing his arms again.

She shot up from her chair. "Oh, so I'm not allowed to have some space once in a while without having to hash everything over with you, or with Harry?"

"I'm not saying that -"

"But you were probably thinking that," Hermione replied tightly.

Ron's shoulders dropped and he rolled his eyes. "Can we please have a compromising conversation, if you don't mind?"

She shrugged, dropping down into her chair again, crossing her arms. "You're the one who wanted to talk, so go ahead. Talk."

The redhead's jaw tightened. "All right," he finally said, in a calm, softer voice, "Here you are. The next time one of us has a problem, let's work it out, you know, instead of ignoring each other."

Hermione felt a sudden pang of guilt, feeling bad about snapping at him when he was speaking nicely in return. And maybe she shouldn't've ignored him over the kiss just because she was feeling insecure. . .

Apparently he'd been waiting on her to agree, but when she hadn't responded, still stuck in her previous thought, Ron sort of dropped his hands and turned for the boys' dormitories, murmured something that sounded suspiciously to Hermione like, "Hell, it's all for getting out of exams anyway."

Her brown eyes gaped at him for a moment, too stunned to speak. He was halfway up the stairs when she shouted out to him, "Is that all I mean to you, Ronald Weasley?" Hermione's voice started to break up. "Skipping out of taking the final exams?"

He froze on the steps, turning back around very slowly. She expected him to explode, but instead, he couldn't say anything. Ron's blue eyes blinked, and he felt an awful pang in the pit of his stomach.

"I see," she said coldly, his silence seeming to confirm it. "Well, see if I ever talk to you again!" With that, Hermione snatched up her rucksack and stomped up the staircase to the girls' dorms and out of sight.

***

"I suppose having Dumbledore talk to her was a big waste, huh, mate?"

It was Saturday night, and Harry and Ron were sitting over the chessboard in the Gryffindor common room, like they usually did. Harry, who had just taken his turn, was now trying to make small talk with Ron. "I mean, 'cause now it's worse. You two are fighting."

"Yeah," Ron sighed, moving one of his pawns and staring over at the staircase leading up to the girls' rooms.

They were both quiet for a moment before Harry finally spoke again. "When's the play?"

Ron wearily rubbed his neck, propping his elbow against the back of the chair. "A week from today." Pause. "Hopefully it will go well, that is, if Hermione's talking to be again by then."

Harry looked sideways at him. "What did you do, anyways?"

The redhead let out another sigh, turning back in his chair to look back down at the chessboard. "Well, I was trying to compromise with her the other day and she wouldn't say anything. It made me so frustrated that I just grumbled something without thinking, and. . .she heard me."

"What?" His best friend wanted to know.

Ron covered his face with his hand, saying, "Well. . .something like, I was just there because it got me out of taking the end-of-the-year tests." Abruptly his face shot up to look at Harry, and he exclaimed, "I mean, if she wasn't going to care, I didn't have to either! But I didn't mean what I said, I really do care! I care about the play and how Hermione feels and school and everything. . .I care about her. . .I love her, damn it!" He slammed his fist suddenly against the tabletop in frustration, causing the chess pieces to rattle atop the checkered game-board.

Harry flinched, and then recovered after a moment, replying, "Then tell her that."

Ron shook his head. "She's not going to listen, Harry. Hermione's as angry with me as a wasp right now. She won't even listen if I try to apologize." He slumped back into his chair, feeling defeated.

The raven-haired boy leaned forward in is seat, catching his best friend in the eye. "Listen to me, Ron. You know how Hermione is, she's stubborn. The both of you are. But if you make the first move to say you're sorry, that means you're a little more thoughtful than Hermione thought you were. Go do it, catch her off-guard," he advised. "I mean, I really think you've got a chance with her, and so do you."

"Yeah," he nodded, and then sat up straighter in his chair. "Yeah! You're right, Harry!" Ron bolted up and started for the staircase to the girls' dormitories, punctuating his determination with every step.

Harry, who was still at the chessboard, watched his best friend disappear up the stairs, smirking to himself.

***

Reaching the end of the hall, where the small plaque on the door said Seventh Years, and banged his fist against the grand oak door. " 'Mione, it's me! Open up!"

No answer.

"Oh, come on, Hermione! Can't we be adult about this? Just open the door and let me in!" Ron slammed his hand more forcefully against the door, going more aggravated with each slam.

At long last the door finally creak open, and Hermione was standing there at the threshold, staring him down. However, her expression was cold, and there wasn't a smile in sight. For a moment, Ron breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that she was finally giving in, but when he saw her face, the relief dropped off of his.

He'd just opened his mouth to say his first word to her, but she obviously wasn't in the mood to listen, as Hermione flung the door shut again, right in Ron's face. He was so frustrated he didn't know what to do. His spirits ailing, the redhead sighed and started back up the hall again to leave.

But Ron wasn't going to give up that quickly. Halfway back to the stairs, he darted back to her door and slammed his fist against it again.

"Go away!" She yelled at him from the other side.

He felt his jaw clenching again and, without another thought, put his hand on the knob and twisted it, barging right in, stomping right up to the Hermione, who was laying across her four-poster bed, with Stars and Planets opened atop the bedspread in front of her.

Her eyes went as wide as saucers as she looked up at him. Bolting up from her bed, she exclaimed, "How dare you walk right in on me like that!"

Ron threw his hands in the air, completely exasperated. "How else am I supposed to get you to listen to me?"

"Why do I want to listen to a rude, insensitive, and thoughtless person like you for?" She demanded, her hands on her hips and her cinnamon brown eyes glittering.

"Why should I care about anything if you won't?" He shot back. "All I was trying to do on Thursday was make amends, but obviously you didn't care, because you just sat there and didn't say a thing!"

Hermione crossed her arms. "I was still pretty flustered about everything, Ron!" She said, trying to defend herself. "And as a matter of fact, I was willing to give in and agree with you, but you just took it for granted that I wouldn't listen! You were the one being so impatient!"

There was a long silence between them then. Ron sighed, wanting to put an end to this heated conversation as soon as possible. Softening his tone, the redhead reached out to touch her shoulder. "Hermione, I just wanted to help."

She moved away. "Well, I don't need your help."

He froze just then, watching her as she stood by the window and stared out, still turned away from him. The scene felt so familiar to him, as if he'd experienced it before. Where did he know it from?

And then, immediately, Ron knew.

Slowly, though with determination, the redhead took a step towards Hermione, saying very softly, "Sure you do," he said. "You need someone to talk to, Laura, someone who can understand, and someone who will help you feel better. You need a friend."

Hermione turned around, her piercing gaze falling upon him and at the same time, her brown orbs softening in understanding. Abruptly her cold gaze fell away, and she responded with the only thing that made sense. "And you're my friend, Ethan?"

A smile came over Ron's face, the first genuine one in nearly a week. "Only if you'll let me."

At that moment, Hermione flung her arms around her best friend, hugging him tightly. "Oh, Ron! I'm so sorry!" She exclaimed, tears cascading down her cheeks. "All those things I said. . .I didn't mean any of it! You just had me so upset. . ."

He hugged back gratefully, his fingers wrapping in the soft brown tresses of her hair. "I know, 'Mione, I know. I'm sorry, too. What I said on Thursday, about getting to miss the final exams. . .I didn't mean that. I do care much more than that. I'm really sorry about it all. Can you forgive me?"

She loosened her grip on him to look up at him, and then smiled and nodded. Sniffling, Hermione replied, "Of course I can, Ron. You're my best friend. Can you forgive me?"

Ron reached out and gave her chin a playful tap. "Never, ever think that I wouldn't."

"Okay," she whispered, nodding again.

Hermione's slender arms were still around Ron; she hadn't quite let go yet, but neither had he. His were still comfortably around her small frame, resting against the small of her back. She was staring up at him, the both of them feeling the closeness of the moment. . .

. . .And then, without a word, Ron reached up a hand and titled her chin upwards, and then leaned in extra close, even closer than they already were - if it were possible - and softly laid his lips onto hers.

The kiss was just as the last one had been; his hands both came up and gently cradled her face, and Hermione's arms slid around him tighter, drawing their torsos together. They remained locked together like that for a long while, their earlier argument much forgotten.

At last the kiss ended, and both Ron and Hermione were quiet as they glanced up at each other. Then am enigmatic smile came upon the redhead's face, and he said softly to her, "Laura, when I told you I wanted to help you, and that I wanted to be your friend, I meant that. But I want to be more than your friend."

She was smiling too. "I know."

"I love you."

Hermione's brown eyes blinked, almost speechless by what he said. But she knew it was for real. It only made sense. And at last, she knew her most cherished wish had come true.

"I love you, too."

Ron couldn't help it; he laughed right out loud and swung Hermione around, feeling more joy than he could remember ever feeling. And those words rang true in his ears; it was like soaring through the clouds for the first time and knowing you were more of a man than you ever thought you could be.

As he put her down, their mouths met again in a third beautiful, gorgeous kiss, feeling that at last everything was somehow right in the world. And another, that in a way that only seemed to make sense to Ron and Hermione, the play had lovingly become real for them both.

***

el fin