Hermione sighed as she was finally let out of class. She wasn’t one to normally be so anxious to leave a day of education, but her mind was tumbling with all sorts of confusion. It had been a rough month of November, and she was glad to finally say goodbye to it and embrace the cold days of December. Her friendship with Ron was more unstable than ever, especially when he caught her and Fred hanging out in the common room or walking to classes together. Harry tried to persuade Ron they were just friends, but the screaming matches between Hermione and Ron just increased tenfold. Not only that, Hermione was feeling trapped. She adored Fred, adored everything they did together and every moment they spent together, but keeping it all to herself was wearing on her, making it hard to enjoy the moments. She was afraid to tell Ginny because she was his sister, and she couldn’t imagine telling Harry. And so she was left in the dark, suffering on the inside and completely complacent on the outside.
She skipped dinner and instead headed outside, drawing her cloak tightly around her as her feet skimmed through the fluffy snow. No one called out for her, and no one came searching for her as she continued on her way past the front doors, around the castle, and onto the snowy Quidditch Pitch. She made her way toward the stands, climbing up and up until she was on the top level, her face in her hands. This was too much.
“I often come here to think, as well,” a dreamy voice said from next to her, and Hermione looked up, eyes catching the most peculiar sight. A girl was sitting there with long, long blonde curls and pretty grey eyes. She was wearing radish earrings, the most interesting necklace with an eagle charm, and, Hermione noted, her clothes were accented with blue and bronze; she was a Ravenclaw. “I’m Luna Lovegood,” she introduced, holding out a hand for Hermione to shake, who took it, “It’s my third year. I’m so jealous that you get to go to the Yule Ball. I’ve always wanted to dress up and dance around with other people. You’re Hermione Granger, I know,” she continued when Hermione opened her mouth, “You’re friends with Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, though I reckon you’d rather tear his fingers off.”
Hermione laughed, a true and ringing sound. “I reckon you’ve got that right. Haven’t I… haven’t I seen you with Ginny around?”
“We met last year, yea. She was a little reclusive our first year, but she got around to making friends last year. You’re dating her brother, right? One of the twins. Fred?” Hermione’s world dropped out from under her as she looked at Luna in shock. “Or maybe it’s just a secret, I dunno,” Luna continued with a shrug, “I only assumed from the way you act. Oh. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to say that,” she added at Hermione’s paling and shocked façade.
“You really can just tell from how we act?” Hermione asked softly, disbelieving.
“Well, I mean, most people can’t. In fact, I don’t even really think anyone can, or they’ve just noticed you acting more friendly with him and not saying anything. I certainly wasn’t going to say anything, but you seemed so distraught, especially after that fight with Ron the other day.”
Hermione remembered that very clearly. Ron had said something rather rude about Hermione going to the ball without them, and she’d snapped, yelling at him to grow up, which had, of course, caused Ron to explode, and they’d fought, right there, in the middle of the Great Hall until Hermione was forced to retreat, close to tears. Even Fred hadn’t comforted her after that, though she knew why. Even when he didn’t say, she knew that he was upset over her going to the Yule Ball with Viktor Krum, but there was nothing that could be done; going with him would only cause even more suspicion, and he’d already asked Angelina Johnson, at any rate.
And Viktor. She wasn’t really sure how that had come about, but he’d asked her, and she’d been too shell-shocked to really do anything but nod. And now here was Luna, and she’d figured out everything, just by observing. “I’m sorry,” Luna suddenly said, frowning, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“It’s just,” Hermione began, sighing, “It’s just a little much. Everything that could be wrong is going wrong, and I just don’t know what to do about it. I’m going to the ball with Viktor, and Ron is angry about that and me being with Fred, and… oh, Luna. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be dumping this on you, especially after we’ve just met.”
“Oh, it’s alright,” Luna said with a smile, “I don’t mind. I’m just glad I can help. Say, tomorrow is a Hogsmeade trip. I’m sure you’ll be looking for a dress. Would you mind if I came along?”
Hermione smiled. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had been so friendly to her other than the Weasleys or Harry. “That would be really great, Luna. I do have something to do when we first get there, but, other than that, I’d love to. How about we meet up around three o’clock, and then we can go find somewhere?”
“Excellent! Oh, look,” she suddenly broke off, pointing, “Isn’t that Ron?”
Sure enough, Ron Weasley was making his way across the Pitch, alone, and looking rather pitiful. He came to the edge of the stands, sighed, and lifted his gaze. He waved to Hermione, who waved back uncertainly, and she and Luna watched as he climbed up to sit next to them.
“Listen, ‘Mione,” he began, and Hermione instantly opened her mouth, to which he flinched, “I know, I know, I’m sorry, you don’t like that nickname.” That wasn’t true, she reasoned to herself, it just felt wrong hearing it coming from Ron and not Fred. “I’m sorry I’ve been a git. I guess I was just a little jealous.” She forced herself to remain quiet, allowing him to continue his apology. “I should have asked you sooner, to go to the ball, I mean. I guess I was just nervous. And… and I’m sorry about freaking out about Fred. It’s okay if you’re friends with him. I mean, I get it. He’s a pretty cool guy. It’s just weird, especially cos you two never really seemed like friends before.”
“Ron, we’ve always been friends. Fred and I started hanging out and talking our second year.” Ron looked baffled by this, and Hermione sighed, “I didn’t know it meant so much to you. Oh, by the way, this is Luna.” Ron grunted. Hermione frowned, glaring at him. She couldn’t understand why he always had to act like this, like nothing was important but what he was talking about.
“I think I’ll leave you two alone. I need to write my dad anyway,” Luna said, getting up and brushing herself off. Hermione surprised her by standing, as well.
“I’ll come with you,” she said coldly, “Clearly Ronald only wants to talk about himself, and I’m rather uninterested in his life at the moment.” It was harsh, she knew, but the way Ron turned bright red and started screaming at her as she descended the bleachers with Luna only solidified that it was right. And then Ron did something he hadn’t done before. He grabbed Hermione’s arm as he caught up with the two girls and shoved her back into the bleachers.
“What is it, Hermione?” he shouted, and she just stared at him, “What does he have that I don’t?”
“What do we have here?” a sneering voice said, and Luna stepped back, grabbed Hermione’s wrist, and forced her to her feet so that they were standing side-by-side. Ron looked livid, and his temper skyrocketed as Malfoy approached. “Distress in the Weasley heart? What, can’t get your Mudblood to love you? She’s so busy with your brother, I hear.”
Ron looked ready to snap, and Hermione quickly turned. “Ron, nothing is happening between Fred and me.”
“Then stop seeing him,” Ron gritted out, “Because apparently you mean nothing to him and he means nothing to you, so it shouldn’t be too hard to just drop him, then.”
“Oh, look, the dirt is going to cry!” Malfoy sang.
“Oh, shut up,” Luna scoffed, “No one cares what you think.”
“Apparently, the Mudblood does.”
Hermione stared at Malfoy, disbelieving. Why was he so unbelievably cruel to her? And what had gotten into Ron? “I’m going to the ball with Viktor,” she said, because she could and because she knew it would hurt him, “And you would be my last choice as a partner. I’m glad you didn’t ask me until the last second because then I wouldn’t have had to make up some lame excuse about why I didn’t want to go with you. I would rather go with Malfoy than I would with you.”
“As if I’d take you, Granger,” Malfoy spat, but Luna had apparently had enough.
“Expelliarmus!” she cried, and Malfoy flew backward, his wand arcing in the air toward Luna. “You’re pitiful, Malfoy. Go pick on someone else,” she said before tossing his wand as far as she could throw, grabbing Hermione’s hand, and marching them away from the aghast Ron and flailing Malfoy. When they reached the Great Hall, Hermione was still breathing heavily, and Luna looked furious. “Honestly, why do you put up with them?” she sighed, stopping outside the doors.
“Ron is one of my best friends,” she mumbled, “I can’t lose him.”
“Do you like Fred, Hermione? Do you like how you feel when you’re with him?” Hermione nodded, and Luna continued, “Then it shouldn’t matter. Now, come on, I’m starving, and you’ve made me feel all unlike myself. We can find Neville and tell him that we saw his frog hopping around the Hufflepuff common room. He’ll be utterly confused.” Hermione smiled, grateful for this strange, curly-haired Ravenclaw. Ginny stood up abruptly, waving them over, and she felt okay, if only for the moment.
December third. 1994.
“I can’t believe he really refused to come,” Harry sighed, rubbing his face as they trudged away from the village and toward the sloping hills where Sirius’ cave was hidden. Hermione played with the strings on her charmed purse, shrugging. She hadn’t told Harry what had happened yesterday, and she didn’t think Ron had either. “I mean, I knew you guys were fighting, but I didn’t think it would go this far.” Hermione just shrugged again.
They reached the cave in silence and were greeted by the sight of Sirius lounging with his head poking out of the cave, absorbing the sun. His eyes were closed, and he looked utterly at peace. Their footsteps awoke him, though, and he immediately got up to greet them, hugging each of them. Hermione emptied the contents of her purse on the cave floor for him, which he gladly took to, tearing at one of the chicken legs.
They talked to him for some time, unloading their worries about the upcoming tournament, the ball, and even some of their personal things. Harry left for a moment to watch Buckbeak fly, sensing Hermione’s unease, and Sirius looked over at her before sighing. “Are you and Ron still fighting?” he asked cautiously. Hermione really shouldn’t have been surprised that Harry had told him, but it still caught her as a shock, especially after yesterday.
“It’s hard,” she said, nodding, “Especially,” she paused, looking down at her hands, and then it came tumbling out, “Especially because I’m dating Fred.”
She expected something, some sort of shocked reaction, but all she got was a nod. “Harry suspected something like that.” It seemed everyone knew except Ron, which only infuriated her more. But, before she could say anything else, Harry had come back in, looking nervous.
“McGonagall is coming this way.”
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