Chapter 1 : It's Foolproof!
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HAPPY CHRISTMAS, JANECHEL!! (hug)
Ron awoke with that keen, buzzing feeling of knowing he’d forgotten to do something, but he couldn’t quite recall what it was he was supposed to remember. He rubbed the ginger hair out of his eyes and rolled over. Harry, who occupied the second bed in the modestly-sized bedroom in Grimmauld Place, was sound asleep.
Ron flipped restlessly onto his back, staring at the low ceiling and trying to pinpoint what that persistent, annoying worry was all about. He knew he’d remembered to stow his trainers in the coat cupboard under the stairs, as his mum had been shouting down his neck for him to do (after tripping over them on her journeys up and down the stairs) ever since they arrived. He’d brushed his teeth, so there was minimal danger of morning breath. He hadn’t left any Dungbombs in his trouser pockets for his mum to find, although there wasn’t anything that could be done about the smell. Actually – and he was pretty proud of himself for the forethought – Ron had managed to shove a heap of dirty clothes underneath the bed just in case Hermione decided to visit him and Harry the following morning.
That was it! Hermione!
Ron shot up so quickly in his bed that the headboard banged against the wall (rousing Phineas Nigellus in his portrait in the hall, although Ron hardly knew this). But – but he couldn’t have forgotten to get a Christmas present for Hermione, could he? Surely he’d gotten her something; after all, she was the most important person on the list to shop for. Hermione had two very critical eyes and a tremendous brain that Ron would never understand the workings of, and she would be able to decode subconscious messages in gifts that the givers themselves never realized they’d intended.
And that was where his woes originated. Every time he found something in an owl-order magazine that he thought Hermione might like, he decided, “Not good enough,” and instead bought it for Ginny or George, putting off the ultimate gift until procrastination had led him to forget it entirely. And now, when Hermione woke up in just a few hours’ time on Christmas morning, she wouldn’t find any packages from him in the pile at her feet. This was an emergency situation, indeed.
He had pins and needles in his right ankle and he’d slept on his neck all wrong, so getting out of bed was hard work. He glanced Harry’s way again, puffing out his cheeks in deep thought. “Psssst.”
Harry didn’t move. “Pssssst,” Ron whispered again. He was too tired to come up with anything on his own, and it wasn’t like he could go ask Hermione to fix it. “Harry!”
“Mphhhh,” Harry mumbled, rolling over onto his face. A little wet patch on the pillow showed that he’d been drooling, and perhaps dreaming of treacle tart.
Ron could picture Hermione’s face in his mind (that girl was like a portable guilty conscience, she was, popping up at the most inconvenient moments), knitting her eyebrows and saying, very reproachfully, “Now, Ronald. You know Harry hasn’t gotten very decent sleep lately. The last thing he needs is for you to wake him up for no good reason.”
“But it is a good reason,” Ron argued out loud. “Don’t you want anything for Christmas?” Hermione sniffed and was about to respond, but the reverie was shattered by the sound of Crookshanks streaking past in the corridor, twisting up the landing with a heavy thud of his paws as he chased what was presumably a mouse. Ron looked over at Harry again, hoping the racket had finally woken him, but he was still peacefully sleeping, his hair scattered in horrible disarray. “Oh, fine then.” Ron kicked the duvet off his legs and stood up, momentarily dizzy.
Surveying the dark bedroom, he knew that his options were scarce. If he’d owned any, he might have decided to wrap up a few Galleons in a sock and give them to her. As it was, however, he only had a handful of Knuts and four silver Sickles to his name, and his mother had warned (or rather threatened) that he needed to save them up so that he would have spending money over the summer holidays and wouldn’t be moaning around the Burrow about being poor.
“Must be something,” he mumbled to himself, half-hoping his speech might disturb Harry so that his best mate could give him a few ideas. His ears burned red when he imagined the inevitable scenario where Harry, well-meaning, offered him some gold to give to her. Ron sighed and leaned against the wall, closing his eyes. This was utterly humiliating.
He opened his eyes when he realized he was already falling asleep again, aware of the ticking of a cuckoo clock on the landing above. Right. He was wasting time. And knowing Hermione, she would be up at the crack of dawn, sitting cross-legged on top of someone’s head, shouting at so-and-so to wake up and so-and-so to go down to breakfast, and probably balancing a book on the tip of her nose and memorizing everything it said so that she could regurgitate it later in History of Magic for twenty points to Gryffindor. Ron massaged his temples. He was not in a very cheerful mood.
“But she does likes books!” he said, brightening. The Hermione in his head who was balancing a book on the tip of her nose was now taking a bite out of toast. She had a glass of orange juice levitating nearby and it was sloshing around…Mundungus Fletcher was hiding in the corner, his robe pockets stuffed with faulty cauldrons…there was a large squid bathing in the toilet, waving hello with one of his tentacles…
Ron’s eyes flew open for the third time since midnight and he stumbled around, promptly tripping over one of his shoes (ahh, so perhaps he hadn’t put them away after all). He took a minute while sprawled on the floor to smile rather giddily to himself. He’d never fallen asleep while standing up before. Charlie used to do it all the time and it made Ron rather jealous that he’d never managed to get the hang of it.
“Books,” he repeated, forcing himself to remain lucid while he wandered around the room. There was a dusty old shelf on one wall between a window and a bedside-table that was permanently fixed to the floor. The feet of the table looked like unicorn hooves…he shuddered, making a mental note never to let Hermione poke around the room unsupervised. Ron meandered over to the shelf and picked up one of the thinner tomes, squinting to observe its cover.
One Hundred and One Ways to Incapacitate Your Foe
He flipped open the cover and skimmed the contents. There were hexes that made people’s eyeballs roll into the backs of their heads and they got stuck that way forever. There were jinxes to make your feet swell three times in size, accompanied by illustrations of people with faces twisted up in pain, hopping around in their overstuffed shoes. Ron got a fleeting image of Hermione using these spells against him in some way, eyes narrowed after he’d said or done something without meaning to (within her hearing range, at least), and hastily restored the book to the shelf.
Knowledge was power. Too much power. And she already had enough brilliance, anyway. She could probably knock him flat on his back with some nonverbal spell, not even blinking an eye. Not that she would ever do so… Oh, but how he longed to see her attack someone else, like Malfoy… Ron’s eyes glistened dreamily, thinking of the valiant Hermione Granger in a duel against Draco Malfoy. The little ferret would never even see it coming.
He was so absorbed in this fantasy that, once again, he quite forgot what he was supposed to be doing. When he came round to his senses, he screwed up his face in an expression of grim determination and tromped out the door. Where he was headed, or what he might do, was any man’s guess. He just had to move out of that dark little bedroom before he fell asleep again.
What to do next? He mulled over a few equally-bad ideas: sculpting a snowman in the back garden, using his wand as a nose; figuring out the recipe for those Muggle cannoli things she liked to reminisce about and whipping up a big batch of them for her; pilfering some of Ginny’s hair accessory-whatsits or face-powder things and hoping Hermione didn’t recognize them. But even as he thought it, he knew these feeble suggestions wouldn’t work.
Fred and George would probably do something obscene to the snowman before Hermione got the chance to look at it. He had no idea what a cannoli was or how to cook them (he wondered for a moment if he might be able to draw a picture and give it to Kreacher and see if the mad old elf could snap his fingers and make it appear). And to top it all off, his sister would probably not take too kindly to seeing Hermione wearing her belongings, and Hermione would never wear any of that, anyway. She didn’t mess around with superficial stuff, Hermione. Just one of her many glorious qualities…
Right-o. Back to square one.
Ron was drawn to the kitchen, obviously, because that was his favorite room in Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, being the one with all the food in it. As much as he liked the abundance of new decorations that almost hid the elf heads and other sinister reminders of the house once belonging to blood purists, the whole place was still a tad creepy. Still, his dad was recovering in St. Mungo’s and doing all right, and Sirius was delighted to have some company for Christmas, and Ron was never one to sit around complaining all the time (out loud).
“Wonder what’s in here,” he said, finding it easier to concentrate when he could voice his thoughts to the stillness. The kitchen was dimly lit with lamps swinging from the ceiling, their cords strangled with holly and garland. The sideboard had been recently scrubbed and everything was in a neat, immaculate order, the cleanest he’d ever seen the place. From several feet away, a light snooze punctuated the silent house. The boiler cupboard.
A-ha! It was as if a firework of revelation exploded over Ron’s head. Kreacher nicked loads of stuff from all over the place. He was bound to have something in his ratty little nest that could be wrapped up nicely with a spare bit of…parchment, probably…and presented to the very lovely, somewhat temperamental, Hermione.
Ron twisted the door handle and winced as it creaked. All the same, he was too impatient to be slow about it, and eagerly stepped inside. The area was impossibly tiny, so small he fancied he could put it in his pocket, and Kreacher’s back was just visible in the folds of a moth-eaten blanket, in the middle of a sea of Black family treasures. They were valuable only to him – and probably Mundungus Fletcher, too – and Hermione wouldn’t want anything to do with Slytherin-worship objects or Black crests boasting the motto ‘Toujours Pur’. Still, there was plenty of other stuff lying around that he could have a go at. A smile quirked at his lips, and he began to congratulate himself for stumbling into a miniature shop of sorts where everything was free. He was so wrapped up in the idea of Hermione gushing over a gift Ron had hand-picked all by himself, just for her, that he didn’t even realize when Kreacher’s left eye popped open.
“Filth!” he cried as though he’d suspected such all along, jumping up extraordinarily fast. Ron tripped backwards in surprise, falling into the kitchen and hitting his elbow rather hard against a cabinet. “Blood-traitor brat in Kreacher’s room, trying to murder Kreacher in his sleep!”
“Oh, come off it,” Ron retorted, pushing past Kreacher with his eyes on something lumpy, propped up lopsided next to the massive, ancient boiler. “What’s that?”
“Don’t touch anything!” Kreacher shrieked, clawing at Ron’s pajamas. “Not with your filthy hands. Friend of Mudbloods and I’ve seen you wiping your nose on the back of your arm. Disgusting, disgusting. Your father, oh, he got what he deserved. Yes, Kreacher does not want them here, any of them, he does not want them in this house and – oh! How my mistress would cry, how she would detest it!” His sallow, watery eyes rolled into the back of his head, mouth drawn down in a horrible, tortured way. “Oh, if my mistress only knew!”
“She’ll know in about two seconds if you don’t shut your bloody mouth!” Ron hissed, pulling off one of his socks and shoving it between the elf’s jaws. Kreacher gave a small scream and set to writhing around like a loon, pawing at his throat and mouth. Ron continued forward, reached out, and grabbed –
His voice was small, disbelieving. But sure enough, there in his hands, was the lifeless body of what had once been a fine young teddy bear. Back in his prime, Mr. Stuffing could withstand romps around the Burrow’s orchard, strapped to the back of the cat. He’d been a Quaffle, a bookend, a pillow, a friend. He’d served every purpose imaginable and now, he apparently had ended up in Kreacher’s den.
“How did you get this?” he questioned hoarsely.
Kreacher gazed up at him with large, hateful eyes. “Kreacher does not know how it got there. Kreacher had nothing to do with –”
Ron bent over and swiftly plucked a tarnished picture frame from the heap of rubbish, and then he strolled over to the fireplace and held it aloft in front of the licking flames, glaring ominously at the angry little elf. In about two seconds, Walburga and Orion’s marriage ceremony – forever captured on film – would be as black as Kreacher’s morning toast.
“All right, all right!” Kreacher wailed, running forth on his frail legs, loincloth flapping. “I found it in the room with the youngest blood-traitor brat. The girl.”
Ron’s eyes were slits, and he held the ragged old bear close to him. “Ginny,” he seethed in a tone that promised of vendetta. Truthfully, he hadn’t had much to do with the bear, and he’d forgotten its pitiable, deteriorated state – one of its eyes had been sewn back on (presumably by his mum), but the other was gone forever. But still, it wasn’t Ginny’s bear. It was his, and she had no right at all…nicking it and carrying it around...taking care of it without his permission…
Ron wrapped up his bear in his mother’s nearby apron pocket hanging on a hook on the door, patting it securely for safekeeping, and hoped that he would remember to retrieve it sooner or later. He then set to scouting the kitchen.
He frowned, looking around with his hands folded across his chest, and that’s when his eyes alighted on a gleam, a flash, of something bright and reflective. There, high on the top shelf of the kitchen dresser, glinting behind the glass, was a small, pretty-looking bottle.
For lack of other options, Ron pushed a chair against the dresser (as even though he was quite tall, he was still not tall enough to reach the highest shelf). He then proceeded to climb it and deftly retrieve it. The glass was cold in his palm, and upon further inspection, he found that something pearly and gaseous was swirling around inside Hermione’s new Christmas present. He’d seen these things before. They were memories, for Pensieves.
“But I can easily take care of that,” Ron said matter-of-factly to no one in particular, and went over to the sink, dumping the foggy contents down the drain. From behind him, Kreacher gave something like a yelp, a spasm, and then he fainted to the floor. Ron’s eyes wandered up the stairs, listening hard for any signs that his or Kreacher’s racket had been overheard, and then turned happily back to the now-empty bottle. Kreacher’s tongue was lolling out of his mouth, spilling onto the linoleum, and one of his scrawny arms was stretched high into the air, fingers still wriggling in protest even while unconscious.
The bottle was pretty, he supposed (it was though, right? Girls liked shiny, reflective things, right?), but not quite enough on its own. No, he definitely needed to put something inside of it. Something colorful, maybe, like the little potion bottles he’d seen in the store windows of the apothecary at Diagon Alley. Only the ladies ever looked at those, probably because they had pink and purple blob-things flowing around inside them, and a few of them sparkled…
The lid on a bowl of sugar reserved for tea was sitting askew, the contents within sparkling in a strip of lamplight. It was fate! Ron eagerly pinched some of the sugar into the little bottle and corked it again, giving it a nice shake.
Hmm. No, that would never do. Not enough, not nearly enough at all.
Ron prowled the length of the kitchen, squinting with one eye just like Moody was apt to do whenever he wanted to look particularly menacing. Here and there, he picked up a few things that he thought would make nice contributions to the bottle: a splash of lemon juice; a few crushed petals from a vase of dried flowers he thought might be daisies; some leftover celery relish; and a drop of honey for good measure. Something about the daisies and the brightness of the liquid clumping together at the bottom of the vial snagged at his memory.
Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow…
But of course! Suddenly, Ron knew exactly what his brilliant new potion was lacking: butter. He stole into the pantry and scraped a dollop of butter into the bottle’s narrow neck, pushing it down with his pinky finger. He then corked it, shook it, and grinned to himself. Yes, this was definitely worthy of a smile from Hermione (and if he was lucky, a hug like the one she’d given Harry last year when he gave her a new pot of color-changing ink for her birthday). It was feminine, it looked expensive (at least thirty Galleons, in his own proud opinion), and it made perfect sense at three in the morning that if applied to a rat, it would turn the animal’s fur a nice shade of pale gold. It seemed like a legitimate potion to him, at any rate, and hopefully Hermione would be too taken, and too impressed with its fetching beauty, to test it out.
Quite forgetting Mr. Stuffing as well as Kreacher’s still-unconscious body twitching on the floor, one of the elf’s hands loosely cupping the picture frame, Ron set off up the stairs with a satisfied smile on his face and a yellowish mixture in his pocket. With that nagging feeling of forgetting something released from his shoulders, Ron tied the protective cloth from an armchair around the bottle and scrawled Hermione’s name on it. He then added it to the pile of parcels on the drawing room table, ready to be magically sorted so that they would appear on everyone’s beds come morning – which was, now that he thought about it, not too far away.
He slid into bed, still smiling, and fell asleep, blissfully ignorant of the fact that Hermione Granger would smell rather iffy for the next six months. For when she unwrapped her package a few hours later, you see, Hermione assumed that the bottle contained perfume. Furthermore (and she wrinkled up her nose as she realized this), she assumed that Ron would expect her to wear it. And all of the brilliance and sensibility in the world could not have stopped her from doing just that.
Mr. Stuffing belongs to TenthWeasley, in the story Growing Up Weasley