Chapter 1 : Death By Pickles
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Ron Weasley was very distraught.
He never would’ve even cared about that stupid animal before, but now that it was officially missing…well. He became aware that Fred and George were tired of receiving letters asking for Pigwidgeon’s whereabouts when they sent him a Howler in return. Neville had clutched Trevor closer when Ron had first posed the idea about Crookshanks eating the owl (which, admittedly, had been roughly four seconds after Ron had discovered Pig missing).
Seamus had told him to “Shut up worrying like a ninny and come hit a Quaffle around.” Ron had retaliated with “I’d like to hit that thick head of yours around,” which had nearly resulted in a brawl, had it not been for Dean standing between the two and knocking both of them onto their backs.
And Hermione had not appreciated the accusations toward Crookshanks, Ron learned. Not one bit. He realized this several days after Pig had disappeared, while they all sat at breakfast. The meal had been particularly silent and tense, as if they all knew what was coming, until Ron said casually, “So, Hermione, have you seen Crookshanks as of late?”
This of course sounded casual to Ron, but not to Hermione or even to Harry, who slowly raised his head from his toast, wide-eyed with horror. Hermione’s grin on her quill tightened, but she didn’t lift her eyes from her study schedule.
“Yes, Ronald, I’m pleased to say that he’s doing well. He’s been—”
“Well fed?” interjected Ron accusingly. Harry spat his eggs onto the parchment Seamus had been trying to finish before class. He cried out something in Gaelic, looking at Harry like he was a mad man, though Ron did not notice. Since exams had been announced, Hermione was a ticking time bomb and only a complete idiot would provoke her. Ron had been said idiot.
“Ronald, I do not want to fight!” she exclaimed. Then she seemed to check herself and went back to her schedule. “Quite honestly I’ve had enough. I thought we were past this.”
“Well ever since your stupid fat cat ate my owl—”
This time Seamus choked on his pumpkin juice. Hermione whirled around, looking positively feral, and shouted, “Ronald, Crookshanks did not eat that bloody feathered Snitch of yours!”
“How would you know?” Ron exclaimed. “He’s so fat I’m sure you wouldn’t realize if he ate a feathered Quaffle, while we’re comparing owls to Quidditch! Harry, are you sure Hedwig’s safely tucked in the owlry right now?”
Harry furrowed his brows, growing defensive. “Hedwig is not a Quaffle… She isn’t fat, Ron,” he said. “Besides, she’s just dropped off the post this morning. Remember, she brought your second Howler from Fred and George—”
“Because Pig is nowhere to be found, and can’t do it himself!” Ron exclaimed.
Hermione scoffed and said viciously, “Since when have you even cared for Pigwidgeon, Ron? Since he went missing and became a reason for you to start attacking Crookshanks again? If I remember correctly, he never ate Scabbers either!”
By then the entire Gryffindor table was staring, and some of the Hufflepuffs had turned as well. They had all known about (and probably heard, since it was so loud) Ron and Hermione’s last fight, and eagerly awaited another.
Ron suddenly gave Hermione the cold shoulder. He turned to Harry and said casually, “Sorry mate,” as he stood from the table and gathered his books. Harry looked as though he was trying to disappear under the table. The last thing Ron heard as he stormed out of the Great Hall was silence, and then Hermione bellowed a furious “EURRRGHH!”
Ron was fuming as he barreled through the corridors, barking orders at any younger student that dared look at him. (“What are you looking at!?” “I’m a Prefect, get to breakfast or I’ll have you in detention!”)
Of course Crookshanks ate Pigwidgeon. It was absolutely the only thing that could ever happen to an owl his size. Forget becoming lost while delivering post (Pig was not the brightest), being eaten by another animal, even being sucked into one of the Hogwarts pipes like Susan Bones’s owl, or simply sitting in some foreign country at his leisure (Pig was not the brightest). Ron knew, without a doubt, that Crookshanks had eaten his owl.
It was about then that he heard somebody saying, “Pickles, what’s that you’ve got in your mouth, silly kitty?”
Pickles, thought Ron with a frown. What a stupid name. Pigwidgeon was a glorious and righteous title. Ron began to ascend the stairs toward the Gryffindor common room and heard the voice grow louder.
“Pickles, come here!” It was some dawdling little girl that Ron did not care to mess around with. He was Prefect, after all, he could send her to detention for… Well, he didn’t know what. For him being in a bad mood, and for Pickles being a horrible pet name.
“It’s a little owl!” came the voice again, and Ron froze. “Pickles, you put that down right now! You don’t know what kinds of little creatures it’s covered in, it’s probably bad luck!”
“HEY!” Ron exclaimed without thinking. From above came a quiet squeak of surprise and then something dropped to the floor. “I’m a Prefect, don’t move!” he shouted and ran up the stairs, panting and nearly tripping.
When he reached the top step, he was faced with a very frightened-looking Luna Lovegood. She had dropped a very thick textbook in surprise, and all her notes and parchments spilled out and across the floor.
“Erm,” Ron began lamely. “Owl?”
She stared for a moment and then gave a great nod, as if understanding exactly what he meant. “Yes, owl.”
“Pig!” Ron called even though Pig never answered to his name. Ron searched the corridor. No Pigwidgeon. Bloody hell, there wasn’t even a cat. Oh, she is mental, he groaned inwardly. Now she’s hallucinating cats! Well, some people have all the fun…
“It was in Pickles’s mouth,” Luna said, bending over for her book. “But when you shouted I dropped this and he was scared off. I think he still has the owl.”
Ron practically yelped and searched wildly for the cat. “He’s going to eat Pig!”
Luna paused retrieving her papers, looking to the ceiling in thought. “Hmm, I actually don’t think that Pickles likes pork,” she said thoughtfully.
“No, no, Pig is my owl. Pigwidgeon,” Ron said impatiently, still scanning the halls. “We have to find—what are you laughing about?”
She was on her knees, still having not picked up all the papers (the girl was the single slowest moving object he had ever seen), and giggling into her hand. Ron looked at her, irritated. They needed to find that stupid cat, now! “What is it?” he repeated impatiently.
“Pigwidgeon,” she said from behind her hand. Her fingernails were each painted a different color. “What a stupid name!” Then she dissolved into fits of laughter.
Ron felt his ears grow hot. “It is not stupid,” he said defensively. When she didn’t stop laughing, her howls echoing off the corridor and probably scaring the cat farther away, Ron said lamely, “At least I didn’t name him Pickles!”
She wiped a tear away and sighed. “All right,” she said airily. Ron stared as she finished collecting her papers, and stood to her feet. “Well, we should probably try to find Pickles and Pig, then.”
“Yeah, right, whatever,” he said dismissively, ready to find the damn cat and be on his way. Hermione was never going to let him live this down, he thought. He groaned and let his head fall back.
“What is it?” Luna was looking at him suspiciously. “Is it the Tiny Dustfluffles?”
“Erm, no,” Ron grumbled without kindness and began walking. He did not want to hear about her stupid creatures, he just wanted to find Pig. Luna giggled eerily and caught up to him, going into a long tangent about how the Dustfluffles live in old buildings (“Hogwarts is a fantastic breeding ground!”) and crawl into your ears, making you remember bad memories.
“Oh, like fuzzy little Dementors!” Ron exclaimed with the sarcasm of a thousand Draco Malfoys. Luna, of course, did not notice.
“Exactly! My father is trying to figure out if they’re related. He wants to go on an expedition to Thailand—oh!”
The first signs of human existence were walking toward them, in the forms of Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle. They were each holding an assortment of muffins, probably stolen from the kitchen. Ron cursed inwardly. No doubt they’d tell Malfoy about this. Luna suddenly took Ron’s arm (again he groaned) and marched over to them.
“Excuse me!” she called as if they were passersby on the street and she needed the time. Ron’s ears were a lovely fuchsia. There were muffin crumbs covering Crabbe and Goyle’s faces, and they grinned stupidly, snickering at her mismatched knee socks and bottle cap necklace.
Luna smiled politely. “We’re looking for Pickles and Pig, but not pork.”
Ron literally slapped his forehead.
Crabbe and Goyle exchanged glances and burst into howls of laughter, nearly dropping their muffins. Luna looked confused, but not crestfallen, as they passed by guffawing. Ron tried to maintain some dignity by brandishing his Prefect badge and shouting to their backs, “That’s right! Get back to your common room or I’ll have you both in detention for a week!”
Luna, however, merely shrugged her shoulders. “Better luck next time,” she said with a smile.
“Come on,” Ron grumbled, looking around. “We need to find Pig. Let me do all the talking from now on, okay?”
“Okay!” came her voice, though she sounded distracted. When Ron turned around, she was very closely studying a spot on the wall, muttering about how likely it was for a Tiny Dustfluffles nest.
He chose not to say anything about this, and instead asked, “Where do you think Pickles would have gone to?”
She turned around and looked thoughtful for a moment. “Well, he likes to chase the owls around, so probably the owlry is our best bet!”
Ron stared at her incredulously. “If he chases owls around, maybe you shouldn’t allow him into the owlry then!” he nearly exclaimed. “That’s how Pigwidgeon”—she snorted at the name—“went missing in the first place!”
She nodded. “I promise I won’t ever allow Pickles into the owlry again,” she said with conviction, and laced her arm through his once more. Ron’s back went rigid but he decided not to say anything. The best thing to do was to get Pigwidgeon, and somehow make it appear that Crookshanks had eaten him and thrown him back up.
I might need Fred and George’s help with this one, Ron thought to himself.
They were nearing the doors that led to the courtyard, (and then the winding stone stairs, and then the owlry) when suddenly Hermione emerged from the Great Hall. She was rummaging through her bag and muttering about how she needed more time to study. Exams were a month away and she was already preparing—Harry and Ron mostly avoided her in times like these. It had been the reason for their last huge argument, anyway.
Hermione looked up and her eyes darted from Luna to Ron. Luna tightened her grip on Ron’s arm and he looked at her, bewildered and confused.
Hermione said icily, “Hello Ronald.”
“Er, hey Hermione.” He tried to hurry away but she said, “I see that you’ve found a recruit.”
Luna smiled widely and again tightened her grip on his arm. He thought it was going to fall off. They all stood in tense silence, Hermione never so much as glancing at Luna, until she said with a feigned smile, “Well, the best of luck to you. Maybe with help you’ll be able to find that Crookshanks really did not eat Pig.”
Ron could tell that Luna was about to ask if Hermione’s cat ate pork too, so he said quickly, “Well, see you later!” and rushed outside. Luna’s arm was still linked through his as the doors closed behind them. They walked for several minutes before Ron finally asked grumpily, “Why did you do that?”
“Do what?” she asked, sounding completely innocent.
“You got all…girly…all the sudden,” Ron said with difficulty. “Back there, with Hermione.”
The owlry came into view and Luna cocked her head. “Girly? Ron, I’ve always been a girl.”
“Oh come on!” he exclaimed, yanking his arm from her. “You know what I mean! You can’t be that daft! You got all… well, you were holding onto me and stuff as soon as Hermione got there.”
Luna grinned. “You still like her.”
“I—well—if she would just—there comes a time when…” Ron sputtered for words. Luna laughed and stepped closer beside him.
“Well, I like you,” she said quietly, “but I won’t do that any more, if you don’t want.”
Ron stared at her incredulously, his ears turning red once more. “You… you what?”
Luna looked at him for a moment, considering, and then stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. If his ears were red before, then they were about to burst into flames now.
This day just kept getting weirder and weirder.
Luna didn’t look back at him as he grumbled, “Erm, thanks.” She seemed to be thinking of a completely different subject by now. Neither of them said anything until they reached the stony stairs leading to the owlry. Ron had almost forgotten why they were even outside.
“The moment of truth. How exciting!” Luna said as she began to ascend the staircase. Ron was staring at the back of her head. She’d just kissed him and seemed to have forgotten. The girl was insane.
“Here Pickles,” she began calling and he suppressed a smirk. “Pickles, Luna is here! Come here, Pickles…”
Pickles, Ron tried to fight his spreading grin. Ridiculous.
They reached the circular room full of roosts and sidestepped an enormous pile of owl droppings. It was quiet, so high off the grounds, other than occasional hoot and ruffling of feathers. Luna and Ron looked around carefully, searching for the only cat that would be in the room. Ron really hoped that Pig hadn’t been eaten; it would be even worse if Hermione knew that another cat had been the culprit, not Crookshanks…
“Oh!” Luna suddenly cried. “Pickles, come here!”
“You found him?” Ron exclaimed, rushing over to the other side of the owlry. Luna was peering behind a large roost. “Does he have Pig?” he asked eagerly.
Luna suddenly turned around. “I don’t know,” she said, once more standing on her tiptoes. This time she pressed her mouth to his. Luna tasted like dark chocolate; she must have been eating some earlier. Ron’s eyes shot open, staring down at her as she slowly pulled away. Her lips formed a smile and she sighed quietly.
“That was a dirty trick,” she said, laughing. “I’m sorry. Was it okay?”
Ron was not fully aware of what was happening. Did she just kiss him? Again? And on the mouth this time? “What…are you…?” he couldn’t seem to finish a sentence.
“Well, you like Hermione, don’t you?” Luna asked curiously, tilting her head. “You probably shouldn’t kiss other girls then.”
“But…but you kissed me!” Ron was truly at a loss for words.
She seemed to be thinking back. “I did, didn’t I?” she asked airily. Her huge eyes landed on him, inquiring. “Should I do it again?”
Ron’s mouth moved to form what he hoped were words, but he was cut off by a very familiar sound, like a teakettle going off. It was getting nearer. And it was so bloody annoying…
“Pig!” Ron exclaimed as the tiny owl flew in through the window. Its peanut-sized brain must have recognized him, and Pigwidgeon shot like a bullet into his hands.
A shorthaired tortoiseshell cat also sauntered into the room, watching the tiny owl with what seemed like familiarity. Luna laughed and scooped up the rather skinny feline. “Oh, I meant to tell you,” she said, “Pickles wouldn’t have eaten him. He likes to play with the owls.”
Ron snorted. “Yeah, you seemed to have left that bit out,” he shook his head and grinned.
“Well, how else was I supposed to get you up here?” she asked, all wide eyes. Ron just looked at her, and she exclaimed in earnest, “We should go tell Hermione!”
Ron looked at Pig’s enormous eyes, like hers only yellow. “Erm, maybe not. I mean… we did have that huge row and all.”
“Ohhh,” Luna nodded understandingly and asked, “About Crookshanks?”
“Well, that too,” he said uneasily. She was staring at him, waiting for an answer, and he finally said, “And about…well. You know. The whole…couple thing.”
She laughed. She actually laughed. “You aren’t speaking again?”
He blushed and kicked his foot, muttering defensively, “I really don’t think it was my fault this time. She always gets snappish when exams are close.” Luna was still giggling and he shrugged. “And you know we always get back together.” He paused. “Why am I telling you this?”
Luna smiled. “Because now you feel like you’ve justified kissing me. Well, sort of.”
“You kissed me!” he exclaimed for the second time. Pigwidgeon flew out of his hands and landed on his head.
She grinned and laughed like she had been trying to hold it in. Pickles scratched at her shirt, looking agitated at being held for so long, and she put him down. “I know,” she said between laughs, Pickles winding through her pale legs. “I did kiss you twice, didn’t I?”
Ron looked at her, wearing enough patterns to shame one of his mother’s quilts. Her hair was wild and tangled with the wind. Those bloody radish earrings. “You really are loony, aren’t you?” he grinned. She pressed her lips together, eyes flickering. When Ron let out a long snort she burst in to laughter. He did too, for some reason unable to keep a goofy smile from returning to his face.
“I thought we’d be up here for hours,” Luna said, again wiping tears from her eyes. She took a few steps closer. “I’ve been waiting for you to kiss me.”
Ron bit his lip and said skeptically, “So you just went ahead and did the job, twice?”
“Three times.” She leaned in to him again, and he decided to just let his eyes close. It was nice not having to think.