Chapter 1 : Running From and Into Distaster
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The room was barely half full since it was late spring and everyone decided it would be more productive to play Quidditch outside than to stay cooped up with a Potions book. He had done the same earlier in the day until his friends came to the conclusion that it was time to work on homework. He, of course, wasn’t going to even think about it until Sunday night right before it was due, so he spent the time staring longingly out the window at others playing catch down by the lake.
Hermione was sitting on the sofa beside the fireplace. She had been stricter than usual lately, her face buried deep inside her Charms textbook looking up definitions and wand movements. Most recently she had been forcing the candlesticks to sing a Latin opera for a few hours and became increasingly frustrated when they were sharp every few notes.
Harry, on the other hand, was lounging across the room with an apple in hand, reading some sort of book for leisure. Ginny had lent it to him and Ron was perplexed as to why Harry would want to read for pleasure. It was ridiculous. Every few minutes he would take a bite of the fruit, let his arm relax, and flip yet another page in the novel. Rubbish.
Ron yawned as he watched fewer and fewer people stay outside since the sun was slowly setting. The common room began to crowd as the sun sank further down the horizon, girls giggling about what different boys had said and boys confused as to why what they said was amusing. They laughed innocently and Ron snorted, rolling his eyes. They were a bunch of twits, every last one of them.
“Oy, Ron,” said Ginny, plopping down on the floor beside him, “what’re you looking at?”
He shrugged, not looking over at her. “Bloody hell if I know. Just bored.”
She stared at him and Ron knew she wanted to ask him if he had been bored the last few hours just gawking out the window. “You want to get out of here?”
Ron glanced over. “And go where? It’ll be after hours in a little bit.”
Ginny paused. “Who cares? It’s Friday. Let’s go somewhere. I’m sure Harry and Hermione would want to come.”
Ron snorted. “Hermione won’t do anything until she gets the ruddy candlesticks to sing on key.” He rolled his eyes.
Ginny stood up, obviously accepting the challenge. She wandered to the fireplace, peering over Hermione’s shoulder and smiled. “Take a break,” she said lightheartedly.
“And do what exactly?” said the fiery Hermione. Her hair was oddly angled to one side from repeatedly running her fingers through it and she still had the same look of utter frustration planted on her face. “It isn’t like we can go anywhere… I might as well practice.”
Ginny chuckled. “Let’s get out of here. Let’s go somewhere. Hell, it’s Friday!” She looked over. “Harry, you too. Put the book down.”
“It’s getting good,” he said, not looking up and taking another giant bite of the apple that Ron thought should have been gone hours ago. Or rotten.
“Shut the book, Harry,” warned Ginny, putting her hands on her hips.
“Just let me finish this chapter.” Another bite.
“Potter, that’s it!” She snatched the book from his grip, walked to the fireplace, and held it over the flames. “Are you finished now?”
He jumped up, the apple bouncing to the floor and under a table. “Well that’s a bit uncalled for!”
“Finished?” she repeated, waving the book by the spine.
Harry slid back down onto the sofa and sighed. “I s’pose,” he said, pouting. He folded his arms in defeat and wrinkled his nose.
Ron got to his feet just as Ginny was explaining that they should go outside and do something since it was unseasonably warm and they had been inside most of the day working on ludicrous amounts of homework.
“First, though, let’s go down to the kitchens. I’m starving.” Harry made a face, knowing that since he was agreeing to Ginny’s plan she would have to agree to his detour.
“You sound like Fred and George,” Ron said, chuckling, “but I’m hungry too.”
Hermione nodded at last, closing her Charms textbook and letting the white candlestick finally rest on the coffee table. She had been doing that often, giving in to suggestions made by girls. When Lavender wanted to go shopping in Hogsmeade, Hermione went and Parvati stayed behind to goggle at Quidditch boys. When Luna wanted to go to the library and study all about a Transfiguration theory, Hermione went and helped her. But when Ron wanted to go outside and play some four on four Quidditch, there was nothing he could do. They were just friends after all and it was very apparent she had a strong dislike for Quidditch. Then why, he asked himself, did she go shopping with Lavender if she hates shopping and Lavender?
Harry nodded and stood up, dusting off his pants. “So to the kitchens and then… somewhere? Let’s hope we don’t get caught. I don’t need anyone knowing what I’m up to other than you lot.”
Ginny rolled her eyes at him, grabbing her jacket, and led the way out of the portrait hole past a few giggling girls that were openly chatting about Gryffindor’s chances in the Quidditch Cup. As the group past it became obvious the girl were focused on the bodies of various players and Ron flushed when he heard his name. He left the room, catching a scowl from Hermione and an another eye-roll from Ginny.
The kitchens were busy that night with dishes being put in their proper order and food being scraped into large garbage cans. The elves were bustling about, wiping their skinny fingers on aprons and chatting with one another about certain students they caught drooling on their books the previous night. The word “Neville Longbottom” was passed around more than once.
Harry waved as they walked in and a clique of elves ran up, tugging at Harry’s robes and asking him if he wished for anything to drink or eat. “Sure,” he replied, nodding lightheartedly. “Can we get some éclairs?”
“Harry, real food!” protested Hermione, folding her arms and furrowing her brow. She looked down at the familiar Dobby and patted him on the head. “Would it be too much trouble to have some sandwiches please?” she asked politely, smiling.
Dobby grinned excitedly and shuffled off toward the appliances to gather up materials. Ron stayed put. House elves had never really made him feel at ease so he leaned against the portrait that had let them in and folded his arms. He watched the rest of the group take a seat in tiny chairs next to an old looking stove.
Just as Ron was about to move and go take the fourth tiny chair, the portrait behind him was wrenched open and he fell backward into the basement corridor, his rear end landing on the cement and his hair flying into his eyes. He looked up, brushing away a tuft of red, and met the cold, gray eyes of Draco Malfoy.
“What in the bloody hell are you doing here?” Ron said quickly, attempting to get up before he could be cursed for doing nothing at all.
“Same question, Weasley,” scoffed Malfoy, stepping over him and into the kitchens. The elves turned quickly and a hush fell over the room. Dobby continued as if nothing had happened but the rest of the elves bowed subtly and a few rushed to the aid of Malfoy.
Ron got to his feet immediately and tried to make it seem like nothing had happened. He dusted off his khaki pants and closed the door behind him, glaring at Malfoy. The twit was dressed in a traveling cloak and by that time it was long after hours.
“Tea and a few biscuits,” he barked loudly, taking a seat on a metal stool a few feet away. It was then that he caught sight of Hermione, Ginny, and Harry seated at the table. “Couldn’t afford the humiliation of eating in public?”
Harry snorted. “What are you doing out this late?”
“Yes, because I’m going to openly tell you my business.” He turned back to the elves. “And two flasks of whiskey please.”
“But Mr. Malfoy. We were told not to serve you any more alcohol, sir,” replied an elf, walking closer and bowing low.
“Rubbish you’re not!” he cried, jumping up and getting close to the elf. “I want two flasks, elf. Two.” He paused, holding up two fingers. “Flasks.”
Ron cocked a brow. “And I thought you were just uncivil to humans,” he muttered.
“Nope,” answered Malfoy without missing a beat, “just filth.”
Ron glanced around the room again, trying desperately to ignore the piece of rubbish that stood before him. He attempted to focus on positive things, including the alluring smell of éclairs, but everything in the room made him want to nail Malfoy in the stomach. He wanted to drive his fist into the Slytherin’s gut without warning. Ron paused. It was the kitchens, after all. He could probably get away with it.
He looked over at Ginny and the thought diminished. She would have to learn from his example. She was still little after all.
“Here you are, Harry Potter, sir,” Dobby said, setting the tray on the table and walking away to fetch the tea.
“Thanks, Dobby,” replied Harry, snatching a sandwich and taking a bite out of it. Ron joined him, taking the final seat at the tiny table. He bit into the turkey sandwich, which tasted oddly like soap, and watched Malfoy’s face get red.
“They get served before I do?” he said.
“They were here first, sir,” replied an elf.
“I don’t blasted care who was here first!” Malfoy said, shoving his fist against a nearby countertop. “Do you know who I am? Do you know who my father is?”
“A man with a wall of bars?” snorted Harry and the other three laughed.
Malfoy wheeled around and glared at him. “Shut it, Potter. You don’t even want me to start on you. Bloody parents…” He chose not to finish his sentence and turned back to the elf. “Whiskey, elf.” The elf scurried away and returned a few minutes later with two flasks of whiskey, a small basket of biscuits, and a to-go cup of tea.
Harry rolled his eyes.
Ron checked his watch. “It’s getting late. Do we want to go now?” He looked at Ginny with cocked brows ands he nodded. “Where are we going anyway?”
Ginny motioned to Malfoy so he wouldn’t hear. “Somewhere.” She smiled wittingly and stood up just as Malfoy opened the portrait hole, leading to the basement corridor. “Looks like we’re leaving at the same time.”
“Bugger off,” Malfoy muttered in response. “I only have to go down a few halls and I’ll be gone. ‘Bout as much of you lot as I can take…filthy lot.”
Ron helped the others out of the hole so they wouldn’t fly out like he had mastered earlier and closed it behind Hermione. They walked in silence for a while, each finishing up their sandwiches and trying to walk quietly.
Malfoy was in front, his basket swinging off of his left arm and behind him was Harry who obviously felt the need to block him from the rest of the group. After that were the remaining three, the girls and Ron, all of which were continuously munching on sandwiches and Ron taking bites of an éclair.
Ron glanced over at the chilly girls, both of which had their arms folded beneath their jackets. It was cold in the basements and the slimy walls were starting to freeze over as the evening turned into night. The corridor was very dimly lit with small torches every few meters and they could barely see the deep, gray floor beneath their feet. Ron looked behind them every few seconds, checking to make sure they weren’t being watched.
“It’s late,” he uttered again, rechecking his watch.
Ginny turned to him and glared. “We’ll be back upstairs in a few minutes…so just be quiet until then.”
“Shut up,” Malfoy muttered as they rounded another corner, passing damp wooden doors and rusty sconces. “You lot are going to get me a bloody detention.”
“Like you won’t end up doing that yourself anyway,” retorted Harry, seething.
As they rounded one final corner the group came to a shattering halt. At the end of that hall they met the eyes of a large, cloaked figure with curtains of black hair and a thin, sallow face. He had been walking the opposite way, but had probably heard their footsteps and looked back. Professor Snape was staring at them intently, most likely plotting the best detention to give them for being out of bed after hours.
The group didn’t breathe. They didn’t know what to do. Ron personally had no desire to go anywhere near detention with Snape if he could so help it.
From in front of him, Harry whispered, “Run” and they answered by wheeling around and racing back around the corner and down that passageway.
He heard Malfoy’s body slam against the concrete behind him and the Slytherin swore loudly. Ron didn’t care if he was left behind and made no effort to reach out a hand. He did, however, throw a kick backward and heard an “ouph” in response.
Ron’s lungs were punishing him for years of pumpkin pasteys and éclairs. He ran, making his sides sting with pain after each long step. Harry was ahead of them as they rounded a second corner and he wrenched open a random door, throwing Ginny into the darkness inside. After her went Hermione and then Ron was forced inside. He heard the door slam shut behind him and very randomly he felt blinded because there was so much light around him.
Ron opened his eyes, shielding them from the unexpected light and looked around him. He gasped, but his vision was blurred by Harry suddenly appearing behind him and pushing the group forward. There was a loud splash and Ginny’s scream. Then Malfoy appeared and his basket went flying. There was another splash, but no scream. Ron then found himself on a very small overhang of a green pond. He gasped again, trying desperately to keep himself from falling in. Ginny and Hermione were both already in the water, Ginny swimming to the side holding on to Hermione who had been knocked unconscious.
Even though his knees were stinging, Ron reached into the freezing water for Hermione. Ginny pushed her up and Ron took Hermione into his arms, moving over and letting his sister up at his feet.
“Well bloody great,” muttered Malfoy from a few meters away, picking up his basket. “Has anyone even bothered to look around? What the hell is this place?”
Ron looked up as Hermione laid limp in his arms. His eyes scanned the area around him, which was actually a large clearing in a heavily wooded forest. The trees bordering it were so thick the space between each of them looked black. In the center was a small pond with about meter of sand on either side, but it was no beach. There was even a small layer of frost sprinkled on the ground and it was painfully obvious that it was no longer spring wherever they were.
On the opposite side of the pond was a small cottage made of old wood and which had cracked windows. It looked like it had been abandoned for a long period of time, especially since the porch was leaning at an angle. There was a dirt path to the stairs and Harry followed it, knocking on the door as the others tried to take in everything going on.
“There’s no answer!” he called back. “Should we go in?”
Ron looked down at Hermione’s lifeless body. “We’re going to have to. Hermione’s freezing…we need to start a fire or something.”
“Stop whining, Weasley,” snapped Malfoy, forcing sand on Ron as he trudged past up toward the cottage.
“Stop whining your face—“ retorted Ron only to be kicked by Ginny. He narrowed his eyes at her. “I hate him.”
“Don’t we all…but you need to bloody shut your face.” She smirked.
He gave her a rude gesture with his finger and turned back to the boys on the porch of the cottage. “Is it locked?”
Harry shrugged, turning the knob. The door creaked open and Ron watched him walk inside, Malfoy following seconds later. Ginny ran over as well, leaving him sitting in the damp grass with an unconscious woman in his arms.
“So what’s in there?” Ron shouted, trying to adjust his leg so it didn’t fall asleep on him.
“Condoms and women!”
“Shut up, Malfoy! Harry, what’s in there?”
“Just a few beds, fireplace, some random junk,” Harry replied, sticking his head out of the door. “Place’s been abandoned for a while it looks like.” He returned to the cottage and Ron groaned, looking at Hermione. Her face was getting pale because of the temperature and he bit his lip.
Ginny hurriedly stuck her head out of the door. “What are you doing, Ron? Get her in here! She’s freezing!”
“Start a bloody fire,” muttered Ron, shifting his weight so he could stand. He bent down and picked up Hermione, something he couldn’t say he had done very often in the past. He scooped her up with his arms and immediately felt her freezing skin against his own. She also was not as light as he hoped she would be and he ended up wobbling rather than walking with a masculine flare toward the cottage.
“There’s a bed over there,” said Harry, pointing to one of two beds in the cottage. He put his hands in his pockets and paused quickly, obviously thinking. “Has anyone seen my wand?”
The group looked around and Ginny gasped, padding her pockets with the palms of her hands. “Harry, mine’s gone too!” She looked at Malfoy. “What did you do with them?”
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Oh, yes. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than with a wandless group of Gryffindor idiots. Mine’s not here either… I’m going to go check back outside.”
Harry swore, his eyes tearing across the cottage. “What the Merlin’s name? This is insane. We’re in some cottage by some pond around some trees… and I have no idea where…and the worst part is that it seems we’re not even in the same season anymore.” He picked up a book of matches sitting on the mantle and crunched up a nearby yellow newspaper.
“This must be like the Room of Requirement or something,” said Ginny softly, looking through a few of the cupboards as Harry attempted to get a fire going.
“Yes, Friday night special: winter in a fucking cottage with your enemies,” said Malfoy brightly as he reentered the room without a wand.
“What? Your idea so far has been drink alone in your room and munch on biscuits,” sneered Ginny, rolling her eyes.
Ron set Hermione down on top of the quilts and took a moment to survey his surroundings. The cottage was small, two beds on the right side, a sofa and table on the left, and straight ahead a fireplace and kitchen nook area with the backdoor and bathroom. He sighed, noticing that Malfoy had already staked out the sofa.
“Bloody hell, mate. Take her clothes off. She’s going to freeze.”
Ron did the freezing. His entire body stiffened up and his eyes expanded to the size of tennis balls. “Wh—what?”
Ginny rolled her eyes from the fireplace. She was wrapped in a blanket and hanging her soaked clothes on the mantle so they could dry by the newly started fire.
“Ginny, what are you wearing under that?!” Ron cried, looking appalled.
“Shut up,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “I’m not getting hypothermia because you can’t handle your sister in her underwear.” She smirked at Harry and plopped down on the other bed. “Take off Hermione’s clothes and hang them up.”
“Why don’t you do it?” said Ron, his voice dangerously close to cracking.
“Because, prat, I’m wrapped in a blanket if you haven’t noticed.” She rolled her eyes again and curled up in a ball, trying to get warm.
Ron turned to Harry. “Harry, come on, mate.”
“Do it, Weasley,” Malfoy sneered from the sofa. He took a sip from his flask. “You know you want to see Granger’s knickers anyway.”
Ron’s face lit up like a firework. He was scarlet everywhere from his ears to his toes. “What? I do not! I mean, I don’t. There’s no way.”
“Ron, shut up.” Harry threw a few logs onto the small fire and prodded it with an iron rod he found laying beside it. “Just do it… you’re going to kill her, you know.”
Ron, with a defeated sigh, turned to the bed. He looked at Hermione’s body which was scattered awkwardly across the bed. Her clothes were clinging desperately to her skin, water droplets still spread across her face and hands. “Ok. But everyone turn around or something.” His face was growing redder by the second.
Malfoy snorted and turned. “Gladly,” he snipped, putting a pillow over his pointed face.
Harry smirked and retreated to the kitchen area to try to find food and Ginny joined him, snickering about her brother.
Ron was irritated. He didn’t want to do this. He felt awkward just looking at her like this. Why wouldn’t Ginny do it? She was just trying to torture him. She was winning.
He bit his lip and walked to the side of the bed, unzipping her jacket. He jumped as he realized her undershirt was yellow and now completely see-through. Ron flushed, not knowing what to do. Her bra was white with lace on it.
He mentally slapped himself. Stop staring!
With a calming breath, Ron took Hermione’s arms out of her jacket and her skin captured his eyes once again. After physically hitting himself this time, he sat her up and lifted her t-shirt over her head. He stared. He didn’t stop himself.
He threw the wet clothes on the floor, pried off her shoes, and paused. He hadn’t realized “clothes” meant her skirt as well. As his face was returning to a deep shade of magenta, he stepped closer and slid her skirt off of her hips. His mind was spinning. Was this even appropriate? What in Merlin’s name was she going to do when she woke up?
Ron hung the wet clothes above the fireplace and sighed, looking back at Hermione, still laying there. At least she wasn’t awake. Then she would probably be talking about how she had to charm those ruddy candlesticks.
“For Christ’s sake, Weasley! Speed it up and stop bloody gawking!” cried Malfoy from the sofa. Ginny let out a loud giggle she tried to disguise as a cough.
Ron scowled and moved Hermione under the blankets. She was breathing heavier now which made him worry a little less than he already was. “Ok, prats. She’s all… undressed and stuff.” He could cut the awkwardness with a knife.
“Well, did you like her knickers?”
“Shut up, Malfoy,” muttered Ron, sitting on the end of the bed.
Malfoy smirked and Ron rolled his eyes. At least it was obvious that the Slytherin wasn’t going to start anything while surrounded by four Gryffindors, unconscious or not.
Ginny sighed from the kitchen area of the cottage. “This is rubbish. Who eats this?”
“Who eats what?” asked Ron, twisting his fingers awkwardly and trying not to look over at Hermione.
“Ok,” she said, going through a few things she found, “we have two cans of broth, some herbs, a bunch of unflavored oatmeal—“ Ron made a face. “—a box of tea, and moldy bread.” She sighed. “I don’t know what to do!”
Harry kissed Ginny’s forehead as she rummaged through the basket of herbs and then wandered over, putting a hand to Hermione’s face. “She’s freezing. I wonder if the blankets will do her any good at all.” He sighed slowly. “Are you all right, Gin?”
She nodded from the herbs and smiled warmly. “Do you want me to look at this tea and see if it’s any good?”
“Please,” he replied, pondering. Ron hated it when Harry pondered. It wasn’t a sign of anything good. He looked over. “Ron, get into bed with her. You have to use your body heat to get her warm. Seriously.”
Ron’s eyes returned to the tennis ball size. “Harry, seriously, mate!”
Harry folded his arms. “I’m being serious! Feel her! She’s bloody freezing!”
Malfoy was beside himself laughing.
“Harry, why can’t you?”
“Because I have my own girlfriend I need to keep warm.” He winked at Ginny and Ron wanted to puke.
“Hermione’s not my girlfriend!” he snapped back.
“Who else then, Ron?” asked Ginny from the fireplace as she put a kettle on. “Harry? No. Me? Malfoy would find a way to take photos and post them all over Hogwarts. Malfoy? Case dismissed.”
Ron sighed. “Fine. Bloody fine. But that’s it! No…anything else.” He kicked off his own sneakers and groaned, looking at the bed and the woman in it. Her eyes were closed gently and the color was slowly draining from her face. He bit his lip and pulled back a few of the blankets just far enough for him to scoot underneath.
The room went silent and Ron froze. He was still as a board, lying on his back and staring at the ceiling, barely breathing. His hands were stiff at his sides and his legs locked together.
Ginny was laughing beside the fire as she sorted through the teabags using the light. “I mean, look at him. He’s ruddy terrible!” Harry shushed her.
“He doesn’t want to get too close,” snorted Malfoy, taking another swig and tripping even though he wasn’t standing. “He’s afraid he might just get his first kiss. Oh, wait… he snogged that Brown broad last year…”
Ron flushed, hoping the rest of the room couldn’t see him. He felt Hermione’s bare arm beside him and froze up once again.
“Ron, just bloody relax,” barked Ginny from the fire. “She’s not going to get any warmer with you just laying there being a bloody prat.”
Ron was fuming. He rolled stubbornly onto his side, irritated at the silence lingering in the room. As he was about to place an arm around her shoulder, he caught a small whiff of her most recently purchased perfume and went back to freezing.
This is ridiculous, he thought bitterly as he lightly rolled her over so that her back was facing him. I can’t believe I’m even doing this. Harry could have. Ginny’s fine. He’s just being a bloody prat. He pulled Hermione toward him, cringing as her cold skin met his. He could smell the pond water in her hair and he bit his lip. It smelled good anyway.
Ron closed his eyes and listened to the conversations around him, hoping the episode would pass lightly and everyone would forget about it in the morning. He sighed, hearing Ginny still fussing about him being too stupid with girls. Malfoy was making up a song over on the sofa that had to do with knickers and Ron knew that this was not something that would be forgotten.
Ron drifted to sleep moments later as the cottage filled with darkness, Ginny still sorting through the teabags and Harry watching the fire.
Ron woke to a swift elbow to the face.
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