Chapter 1 : Bludger's Beatings
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Hogwarts had seen many students. Some were destined to become brilliant witches or wizards. Some were popular or athletic. Most were average. Just regular kids trying to find a place for themselves in the world. They procrastinated. They dozed off during lectures. They lusted as only adolescents could. Being a wizard was being fundamentally different from the rest of humanity, but they suffered through the same emotions that all kids do. They too, were frustrated.
One of the students at Hogwarts was out of his common room. He was trudging through the snow, carrying a large suitcase. His mood was foul. After cresting a small hill, he dumped the suitcase on the ground, cursing its weight. His night had been rough.
He was in love. He knew it. He had known it for quite a while now. His infatuation had grown over the years, until he could no longer deny it to himself. He had kept it a secret. He had never acted on it. He wished he did, but in the end, he was just a young boy, and could never find the words to tell her just how he felt about her. She was oblivious of his infatuation, of his obsession with her.
The student wasn't wearing any gloves, nor did he wear a scarf or hat. His decision to go out tonight had been impulsive; almost instinctive. His day had actually been quite nice. Just a few classes, and in the subjects he liked best. What had fouled his mood was a comment she had made. They were sitting near the fire in the common room when his sister had asked her who she was going to pair up with for the defence against the dark arts essay they were supposed to write in pairs.
'I think I'll probably team up with Harry,' she said, unaware of his feelings of hurt. Side-lined again, he thought.
'Why not with Ron?' his sister had asked.
'Well,' Hermione said, 'I do want to pass this course...'
They had all laughed. He had tried to laugh along with them, but his heart wasn't into it. It had felt like a big knife had been thrust into his heart. He was unused to these sorts of emotions, and had excused himself shortly afterwards. He knew they suspected something; the conversation had fallen silent instantly, and any lingering smiles had been dropped. He allowed himself to cry once he had entered a cubicle at the toilets. It was a soundless weeping that didn't help him feel better at all.
Three hours later, Ron had emerged from the toilets and found the common room empty. His thoughts had grown bitter. Bitter with jealousy. Bitter with resentment. He had never been a perfect man. He knew that. He was tactless and brusque. But he had never intentionally hurt her. He had never intentionally back talked her to anyone. And this is how she repays me?
His ungloved hands opened the suitcase and unlocked one of the two bludgers. It had been straining against the lock that had held it in place, and once freed, the bludger raced up into the air. Ronald straightened up after picking up a beater's bat.
Wizards are creative people. This creativity leads to many wondrous activities, but can also create horrible things. There had been a student several decades ago that had, in his own dark thoughts, devised a dangerous game. It was banned at Hogwarts soon after, but the stories about it were passed down from generation to generation. And with stories came those who were inspired.
For a moment, the bludger hung limply in the air, then came racing down a full speed. He rammed it aside at just the right time, his keepers training unfailingly visible. The bludger diverted off to the side.
Over the course of forty years, this game had been played more than a hundred times. Sometimes it was played after a bet, made in the dead of night and settled there and then. Sometimes it was played to impress a girl or boy. This time it was played in rage. This time, it was played in frustration.
The bludger made a simple loop around the field, then came hurtling back. Another ram diverted it. It felt good to beat something.
Five more times was Ron able to deflect the bludger. The fifth time, however, he knocked it down too far, and the bludger drove into the ground, where it came to an abrupt halt. It bounced back almost instantly, attacking Ron before he could ready his defences. The bludger rammed into his side, knocking him down on his knees and sending a jolt of pain up his spine.
It felt good. For just a second, Ron couldn't feel the heart-ache and despair that had overcome him since Hermione's clear dismissal of him. For a second, Ron could feel only the pain the leather bludger had inflicted. He got up again, and furiously knocked the bludger away from him.
It felt good to have a purpose. It felt good not to have to worry about Hermione and school. He only had to worry about that one bludger.
Hermione. Oh, how long he had pined for her! How long he had been dreaming of her. He wanted her desperately. He wanted to kiss her, touch her, feel her against him. Like other boys of his age, Ron imagined sleeping with her, their bodies one, even though he had no experience to draw from for that instinctive yearning. He barely caught the bludger this time. His arm still hurt from the previous hit, and his mind was occupied by her again. I don't want to think of her anymore!, he thought desperately, Please, just make me forget! I don't want to feel this way.
He intensified his attacks on the bludger. More than once, he knocked it out so far that it took more than ten seconds for it to return. Feeling unchallenged, Ron reached out and unlocked the second bludger.
Deep in the castle, a girl had been lying awake. She wasn't feeling very good about herself. Her quip at Ron (obviously meant as just that, just a bit of fun) had backfired. Ron had taken it much too seriously, and she had noticed that far too late. He had laughed about it, but she realized now that it had been just for show; a mask over his real emotions. Hermione was just a girl, and whatever anyone ever told her, she never felt especially outstanding or better than anyone else. She didn't even feel above average. If anything, she felt rather like an outcast, with her unmanageable hair, her disinterest in make-up, her limited number of real friends, and her non-existent bosom.
After more than an hour, she got out of bed. Going down to the common room, she curled up on one of the couches. Perhaps I should go up and apologise, she thought, but she knew enough to know she wasn't going to do that. Ron would probably just be cross with her, and the rest of the boys would laugh. However much she tried to act independent and strong, Hermione knew she desperately needed the approval of her friends.
The couch wasn't comfortable any more. She shifted in it once or twice, then decided to just give up. In a rare streak of defiance, she decided to go out-of-bounds, knowing enough spells to keep from being caught. The cold air of the corridors will do me good.
She leisurely walked through the castle. It soothed her to be out in the corridors. Hogwarts was a home to her, and walking around alone and free momentarily took her mind of Ron. Not having any specific goal, she just allowed herself to roam freely through the many corridors of Hogwarts. She realized that if anyone did catch her out-of-bounds, she would be rather embarrassed, clothed in nothing but her pyjama’s and without an acceptable excuse.
After a few minutes, Hermione passed the library. She smiled for a moment, thinking it funny how her subconscious had chosen to take just this route past the library and not any other. Ron would have made a joke about it. She let a shy little laugh escape her lips imagining him just like that. Ron was many things to her. He was an insufferable procrastinator, and Hermione had more than once needed to help him write his essays just to make sure that he would be pass his exams. Ron was headstrong and wilful when it suited him best, often in petty little things that she really didn't care about. Ron could be a little cruel. He never meant to be cruel. He never sought out to be cruel. But Ron was; he could say the most destructive, unacceptable things. He had hurt her more than once like that.
But that cruelty and stubbornness was just a small part of him. Ron was also sweet, in his own special way. He could surprise you with a compliment when you least expected it. Ron was insightful and resourceful, especially in times of stress that Hermione felt hard to cope with. She knew herself to be a nervous wreck during tests. Ron would doubt his knowledge and abilities (why he didn't study more was beyond her), but he was never anxious. She envied that in him.
Just then, she passed a window and saw movement from the corner of her eyes. Far from the castle, in the white carpet of snow that covered everything, she saw a student playing Bludger's Beatings. Mildly shocked, her first instinct was to go down to McGonagall's office and inform her of it, as a good prefect should. She was about to turn when the clouds in front of the moon parted and the moonshine, reflected by the snow, illuminated the grounds just enough for her to make out the student's hair colour. She saw him reach down, and unlock the second bludger.
The second bludger raced down hard until he rammed it out of the way. The other bludger was hurling in from the east, but he managed to deflect it in a reflex. He was quite taken with his ability until both bludgers came hurtling back. Jumping out of the way, Ron managed to avoid getting hit, but he was too slow to avoid getting clipped by one of the bludgers as it zoomed past. His shoulder was hit, and the deep thud reverberated across his body. He managed to hit the bludgers for a little while. During that time, Ron's mind was blissfully empty. He needed all of his wits to keep from getting mauled by the bludgers. He felt one of them miss his head by barely an inch, as he rolled to the side to keep from getting his by the other.
Ron might have lasted a while longer if he had not been playing this game in more than a foot of snow. It wore him down slowly, every move taking more energy than the former, his footing never completely sure. Ron was panting, and realized too late that he wouldn't be able to keep this up much longer. A slight feeling of desperation tried to master him, but he angrily shoved it aside, forcing himself to mind only what was happening in the now.
He missed one of the bludgers. It hit him straight in the gut. The air was driven from his lungs, and he felt himself topple backwards. The beater's bat fell from his fingers. He grasped for it but the other bludger bounced off his knee violently. A groan of pain left his lips. His eyes were filled with tears. Were those from pain, or was he just crying? He did not know. With enormous effort, he managed to get some air into his lungs. Ron saw a black shape coming at him from the side, and managed to pound it away with his arm. A sharp pain raced up from his elbow. His eyesight left him. Sound came as though from a tunnel. He felt one of the bludgers connect with the side of his head. It nearly knocked him out.
Suddenly, the onslaught of the bludgers stopped. For a moment, silence hung in the air, until it was broken by two loud booms. He tried to prop himself up to see what had happened, but when he did, a blinding pain raced up from both his leg and his elbow. He just decided to lay there and see who or what had distracted the bludgers.
In under ten seconds, he heard her kneeling down next to him.
'Ron!' she said, her voice thick with emotion, 'Ron, are you all right?'
'H-Hermione?' he said, 'What are you- Why did you-'
'I don't understand, Ron. What on earth possessed you to play Bludger's Beatings with two bludgers?'
Her hands pushed his hair out of his eyes. It was a simple gesture, but the contact of his skin with hers made him feel alive for the first time in hours. His eyesight slowly returned.
'Ron, I was so worried!' she said, as her hands prodded him lightly, 'Why, Ron, Why?'
He could discern shapes now, and slowly, details became visible. He could see the look of terror in her face, and the tears welling up in her eyes.
'I feel like a fool.'
Hermione backed away as if bitten. 'A fool?'
'How else would you describe me?' he spat, his frustration and anger slowly managing to take over his thinking, 'How else but a fool in every way? I obviously don't mean anything to you. You mean the world to me, Hermione, and you treat me like shit!'
'B-But- But Ron! I never-'
'You never?' he said as he tried to get up again. Once more a sharp lance of pain burst from his arm. He screamed out more in anger and frustration than from actual pain. Hermione's tears now flowed freely.
'I'm sorry!' she said, her voice unsteady and bordering hysteria, 'I'm so sorry Ron! I didn't mean it like that!'
'Oh,' Ron said sarcastically, his anger flaring once more, 'Well I guess that makes everything all right then.'
Hermione couldn't reply. She was crying and shivering. Her breath came in spurts, and her arms were folded around herself.
'I'm sorry I'm such a failure.'
This seemed to shake Ron much more than the bludger ever could. His anger and frustration forgotten, he turned his head to Hermione. 'A-A failure? You?'
'Yes!' she wailed, 'A complete and utter failure.'
'Hermione,' Ron said, as a slight chuckle left him, 'You can't be a failure. You've never failed at anything.'
This seemed to calm Hermione down.
'Hermione,' he repeated, 'You've never failed at anything. You are the cleverest witch of our time.'
'That doesn't mean anything to me', she said, 'I don't care for that any more.'
'You don't? You are Hermione, right?'
'Well, a good education does still matter, of course,' Hermione said, swallowing her tears, 'And it is important to get good grades for your career, but I don't care for being the brightest or cleverest of anyone.'
Hermione smiled, and that broke most of the tension that hung in the air. Ron smiled back at her, and winced as another shot of pain coursed his body.
'Ron,' Hermione said as she reached for her wand, 'I am sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. I thought you would understand that it was just a quip. I would partner with you any day if you wanted me to.'
She pointed at his leg and whispered an incantation. Ron could feel the bones in his leg knit back together. It was only when she pointed at his arm, that he noticed that it was bent in a completely unnatural direction. It too knitted back together.
'I've mended your fractures, but you must be in a lot of pain,' Hermione said, 'We should go see madam Pomfrey.'
'No,' Ron said, finally able to sit upright, 'I'll endure it. It will serve as a reminder.'
'A reminder to what?'
'That when I hit rock bottom,' he replied, reaching out and taking her head in his hands, 'You will always be there for me.'
He brushed the tears from her cheeks with his thumbs. Then, he unsteadily got to his feet. Hermione tried to prop him up, but nearly buckled under his weight. Ron noticed she was shivering.
'You must be so cold!' he said, 'In your pyjama’s and all.'
It was only then that Hermione seemed to realize that she was standing in a foot of snow in nothing but her pyjama’s.
'Y-Yes,' she said, quivering on her feet, 'Yes, I am.'
Ron and Hermione limped to the castle as fast as they could. She supported him, her arm wrapped around his waist to keep him from falling, while he held her close, hoping to shield her from the cold. Once inside, they took the shortest route to the common room, walking in absolute silence. When they arrived Hermione quickly got a fire roaring and settled in front of it.
'I'm sorry for being such a jerk,' Ron said, after a minute of silence, 'I hope-'
'Ron,' Hermione interrupted, 'You don't have to apologise. It was stupid of you to go out, but in a way, I can understand.'
Hermione fidgeted with the hem of her sleeve. She was still shivering.
'Yes,' she said, after a pause, 'If anyone should apologise, it should be me.'
'Well,' Ron said, a smile forming on his lips, 'It was sort of a mean thing to say. I'm not sure if I'll ever recover completely.'
Hermione playfully swatted his chest. Then, she leaned in, and kissed his cheek.
'I'm sorry, Ron. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings.'
The next morning, Ron got out of bed oddly refreshed. He had overslept, obviously, but he would not let it worry him. After a quick shower and a brisk walk to the Great Hall, Ron arrived in time to have a quick meal. Soon, the common room was buzzing with rumours. Harry looked up from his cereal.
'Merlin Ron, what happened to you?'
Hermione was sitting across from him. She was reading a book, but Ron could see her attention was trained on him.
'I- Err- fell out of bed.'
Harry seemed unconvinced.
'Okay, so you have nothing to do with all of the rumours currently going round?'
'Rumour has it that a student nicked some of the school's quidditch supplies last night,' Harry said, 'Said student then dragged it all the way up to the edge of the grounds, and played Bludger's Beatings. The Ravenclaw common room apparently had a nice view of it.'
Ron felt the tips of his ears tingle. Hermione was no longer pretending to read, her eyes unmoving.
'You know how they keep studying there until the small hours of the night? Well, one of them noticed said student playing. With two bludgers.'
Ron tried to keep his face impassive. 'What has that got to do with me?'
'He was getting mauled by the bludgers when another student saved him. A girl. She apparently did some nice spellwork, blowing the bludgers right out of the air.'
Hermione was blushing.
'I- I guess it must have been a Hufflepuff or Slytherin,' Ron said weakly.
'Yeah, well, however it was: the guy should feel lucky with a friend like that,' Harry continued, 'That sort of friendship is rare.'
He got up and walked off to the charms classroom. Ron glanced up to Hermione, who tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. He picked up two sandwiches and said, in a voice just loud enough for her to make out: 'I sure am lucky.'