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More than an hour had passed since his classmates had gone to bed, and the sound of slow, even breathing filled the dormitory. Feeling it was finally safe to venture forth, Ron slid out of bed and shivered when his bare feet touched the cold floor. He shuffled towards his trunk to find his clothes and had to stifle the urge to curse when his toe connected with its corner. Lowering himself carefully back on to the bed, he picked up his foot to rub his sore toe. How had he gotten himself into this situation?

“Lavender”, he thought with a grumble. Why hadn’t he just told her no? Probably for the same reason he continued to dodge her in the hallways and avoid the common room when he knew she’d be there. Despite his best efforts to escape her presence, she seemed to have a knack for finding him and would pop up at the most unexpected times and places. The most recent had landed him in his current predicament.

It was time for their mid-morning break as Harry and Ron headed back to the Gryffindor common room. They strolled lazily through the castle’s less traveled passages to give them the time and privacy to talk freely. Harry, who was still obsessed with Malfoy’s whereabouts, was currently searching the Marauder’s Map for his name.

“Well?” Ron inquired once Harry started to fold up the map to shove it back into his pocket.

“He’s in the Slytherin common room now,” Harry informed with a grumble, ”but when I looked during class there was no sign of him anywhere.”

“You’re sure he wasn’t anywhere on the map?” Ron questioned tentatively.

“Yes, and I know what you’re going to say,” Harry said, throwing him an annoyed look as he mounted the next flight of steps. “But I have never seen him near any of them.”

“I don’t understand what is so impossible about it,” Ron heaved a frustrated sigh, “After all the secret passages are the only way someone could get out of the castle without anyone knowing. How else -”

“Won-Won, there you are!” Lavender’s sugary sweet tone sent a sickening lurch through Ron’s stomach.

How did she always know how to find him? Ron did his best to manage a smile before turning to face her. “Lavender, what are you doing here?” Ron asked, his smile more of a grimace, but Lavender didn’t seem to notice.

“Looking for you, silly!” Lavender said, drawing Ron’s arm firmly through her own.

“Did you need something?” Ron’s voice was hopeful as he tried to loosen her grip.

“Do I have to have a reason to want to see my boyfriend?” Lavender whined defensively and Harry began to feel uncomfortable.

“You know what, I just remembered something important that I have to do,” Harry said, thinking quickly. “So I guess I’ll see you two later,” he called back behind him as he rushed up the stairs.

Ron tried to stop him, but Harry was already gone by the time he called out to him. He stared in defeat up at the empty stairs where Harry had disappeared wondering how he would manage to get away from her now.

“So when were you going to tell me about the secret passages?” Lavender asked, but he was so focused on his dilemma that it was several moments before he realized what she had said. When he looked back at her, she had dropped his arm and was waiting patiently for an answer.

“What – how?” Ron stammered uncertain of exactly how to continue.

“I heard you and Harry talking,” she announced, unashamed of the fact that she had clearly been spying on him.

“What else did you hear?” Ron asked angrily.

“Nothing,” Lavender said firmly and straightened herself to look at him, “Wasn’t finding out my boyfriend has been keeping secrets from me enough?”

“I don’t have to tell you everything.” The words had barely escaped his lips before he realized his mistake.

Lavender’s face twisted into a pout and Ron watched with a pained expression as she began to cry. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Ron pleaded, looking anxiously around him for the sign of other students as Lavender’s howls grew steadily louder.

“No you’re not,” Lavender hiccupped between sobs.

“Listen, I promise to tell you everything from now on,” Ron whispered soothingly. His frantic determination to quiet her cries overruling his common sense.

“Everything?” Lavender sniffed.

“Sure,” Ron muttered. He was grateful to see she was finally calming down but also completely unaware of what he was actually agreeing to.

“So you’ll show me the secret passages?”

Ron had already begun nodding his head before she had finished her request. He froze in mid-movement when he realized what she was asking. Noticing Ron’s hesitation, Lavender quickly spoke up.

“If you are going to tell me everything then that has to include the location of the secret passages, right?” Lavender paused, her eyes firmly fixed on Ron’s face.

Ron’s mouth flopped open uselessly and he uttered a few unintelligible sounds as his mind floundered about for an adequate excuse. Lavender seemed to take this as agreement.

“Good, I’ll meet you in the common room after curfew.” She planted a quick kiss on his cheek then hurried up the stairs, leaving Ron to wallow in his own stupidity.

Almost immediately Ron regretted not speaking up and telling her no. He would try several times that day to corner Lavender and tell her he wouldn’t be able to show her the passages, but she had suddenly become elusive herself. His first real opportunity came when he spotted her with Parvati in the stairwell heading to dinner. He went to catch them but was nearly knocked down when he collided with Hermione who was hastily climbing back up the staircase. Her eyes were glistening with unshed tears as she looked up at him, and he considered asking her what was wrong. Then suddenly her face hardened.

“I hope you get a month’s worth of detentions! It would serve you right!” She yelled before pushing past him and charging up the stairs.

Now what had he done? He could hardly consider running into her on the stairs worthy of a month’s detentions. Besides, it had been as much her fault as his. He would never understand women as long as he lived. By the time he remembered his problem, Lavender had disappeared and he would not have the chance to speak with her again that evening.


So now here he was, creeping about in the middle of the night and preparing to do things he would rather not. It had occurred to him to just not show up, but he quickly dismissed the idea when he contemplated Lavender’s reaction the next day. She was sure to cause a scene and would only end up insisting that they try again the next night. No, it would be best to get this over with tonight.

He tiptoed quietly down the staircase to the common room and as expected Lavender was waiting there impatiently for him. Her eyes flashed angrily at him and sensing trouble he rushed to apologize for his tardiness. If he let her start a fight, they would be here all night. A log crackled on the fire giving Ron a start, and he was suddenly very eager to be gone. Lavender, now placated, was easily led to the portrait and pushed through. Ron had barely climbed through himself before Lavender was tugging at his arm.

“Where are we going?” Lavender simpered.

Ron looked at Lavender's excited face and felt an unexpected stab of conscience. All he could see were the disappointed looks on his friends’ faces when they discovered what he had done. How could he make them understand that he had no choice? Suddenly confused and uncertain, he felt ill-prepared.

“You’ll see,” was all he could think to reply.

No real idea of where he would take her or what he would do, Ron set out with Lavender clinging to his arm. He knew it would be no use to tell her that the passages didn’t really exist or that he didn’t know where they were. So what could he do? He had to take her somewhere or she would never leave him alone about it.

Ron led her through the castle on a zigzagging path with no real destination in mind while he considered the possibilities. If he had to show her one of the passages, which one would be of least consequence? Luckily, Ron didn’t have to bother with keeping Lavender occupied as they walked aimlessly through the castle. Lavender entertained herself by talking tirelessly and Ron needed only to nod occasionally to feign interest. She was so caught up in her own words that she didn’t seem to notice Ron was hardly listening. Then suddenly she said something that cut through the fog in his brain.

“-but I told her you only wanted to show me the passages. So then she-”

“Wait a minute,” Ron stopped in front of her and Lavender gave him a puzzled look. “Did you tell someone where we were going?”

“Only Parvati,” Lavender shrugged innocently. ”She’s my best friend. Didn’t you tell Harry?”

As a matter of fact he hadn’t told Harry. Harry would be very upset with him if he knew what he was even considering doing. It was the thought of Hermione’s sad and disappointed eyes though that haunted him. “So you told her about the secret passages out of the castle?”

“On the way to dinner tonight,” Lavender answered with a casual wave of the hand but then noticed the worried look cross Ron’s face, “Don’t worry. Parvati can keep a secret.”

This was something that Ron highly doubted. How could he have even considered showing the passages to Lavender? Lavender and Parvati were two of the biggest gossips in the school. If they knew something, it was only a matter of time before the whole school knew about it. There was no way now that he could show her any of the hidden passages. What was he going to do and how was he going to tell her?

Without saying a word, Ron turned away from her and continued down the corridor. More time, he needed more time to think. Lavender hurried after him but this time when she resumed her pointless monologue, Ron was so distracted that he did not even bother to pretend to listen. So distracted in fact, that he would later marvel that they hadn’t gotten caught. It wasn’t long though, before Lavender began to notice that they had passed the same corridor several times and seemed to be wandering in circles.

“Won-won,” Lavender used that horrid term of endearment she had for him. “Didn’t we pass this suit of armor a half an hour ago?”

Ron stared blankly in the direction she pointed but didn’t answer.

“You never had any intention of showing me the passages!” she suddenly raged. “We have been all over this castle. You can’t tell me we haven’t passed it by now. The only place we haven’t been is the dungeons.”

The word dungeons stirred something in the back of his mind. There was a passage in the dungeons, one that had been blocked since their third year. He could show it to Lavender. He didn’t have to tell her it had caved in and was unusable.

“It is in the dungeons – but I had to wait,” Ron spoke haltingly as his mind groped madly for something to cover his blunder. “Snape is always patrolling the dungeons at this time of night – and it seemed safer to wait until he was gone.”

Lavender face immediately softened. “Do you think he’s gone now?” she whispered conspiratorially. “Can we go?”

“I think it would be alright now,” Ron said and Lavender tittered excitedly.

A matter of minutes later, they were in the dungeons and Ron couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being watched. He glanced over his shoulder occasionally at the shadows behind them, but he didn’t see anything. Hermione would never let him live it down if he got caught. She would laugh and say that he deserved every minute of detention he got. If it was Snape that found them, it probably would be a month’s worth. A month’s worth of detentions, that was what Hermione had said earlier. Well, she might get her wish yet.

“This is so exciting,” Lavender trilled. “Not all girls would think so, but I do.”

“Really?” Ron would have thought that after wandering the castle for an hour, she would have been very bored by now.

“For instance Hermione Granger,” Lavender paused for dramatic effect and Ron continued to ignore her, “She spends all her time with books and quills and never makes any effort to have fun. I don’t think she would risk being out after curfew even if it was to visit a secret library filled with rare and ancient books.”

Ron was baffled by Lavender’s unforgiving summation of Hermione’s character, but he also knew there was some truth to it. Normally Hermione would never break a school rule, but if she thought it was something worthwhile, like helping a friend, she would not hesitate to break curfew. Lavender just didn’t know Hermione like he did.

“Books are just what Hermione likes. She can’t help it if she finds books and homework fun just because we don’t,” Ron explained.

“You’re right. She’s just not like us,” Lavender said and used her arm, which was linked through his, to pull him in closer, “She would never break a school rule. Matter of fact, if she knew we were out right now she probably come down and give us a lecture. I wouldn’t even be surprised if she were to tell on us.”

Ron could feel his face growing hot despite the cold damp of the dungeons. Hermione would never betray him in such a way, but Lavender didn’t understand that. She didn’t understand a lot of things about Hermione or him for that matter.

“Do you remember that Bulgarian seeker who took Hermione to the Yule Ball?” Lavender asked and all he could do was make a small grunt in reply. He didn’t feel like talking anymore, especially about Victor. “What an unimaginable love connection that was! I mean he was a celebrity bound for fame and fortune, and she ignored him to spend all of her time in the library. I’ve heard that he still writes her though.”

Ron had known this of course, but he didn’t see what difference it made to Lavender. Why was she bringing this up now? What was the reason for all of this talk about Hermione? It was obvious she didn’t like her. Just another reason Ron knew it would be better to just end things with her and soon. They made another turn and Ron spotted the corridor that he believed led to the passage ahead.

“Stay here. I’ll be back in just a minute.”

Ron thought it would be best if he located the passage alone and made sure it was impassable before showing it to Lavender. Besides, he wasn’t even sure he would be able to locate it, and he didn’t want her to watch him floundering about in the dark looking for it. It had been a long time since he had looked at on the map, but he felt sure it was near the end of the corridor up ahead.

This corner of the dungeons was much darker than the rest, and Ron had to walk much slower, feeling his way as he went. There should be a notch in the wall next to a torch bracket. He let his hands travel over the rough surface of the stone and before he knew it, he had found it. His fingers landed on something cold and metal and as he moved his hand higher he felt it slip from the wall. There was a loud clanging as the bracket hit the floor and Ron’s heart leapt into his throat. He strained his ears for some sound and somewhere in the distance he could make out the muffled sound of running feet. Without even thinking, he started to run.

As he rounded the corner to the corridor where he had left Lavender, he noticed someone in a cloak running in front of him. It was Lavender. He recognized the cloak. He ran after her calling to her as loudly as he dared. Ron could hear the person chasing him now and was positive it was Snape. He watched as the tail of Lavender’s cloak darted around the entrance to the grand staircase. She would never be able to escape in time that way.

“Lavender, wait.” Ron reached out a hand to grab her as she rounded the next flight of steps. “Through here.”

He dragged her with him down the adjacent corridor. There was a large ornate tapestry hanging in the center of the hall. Ron pulled it back to reveal a secret staircase and pushed her inside. After he closed the entrance behind them, he noticed she was trying to escape up the stairs and quickly put out a hand to stop her.

“We have to wait,” he whispered and pulled her back against him as he slid down a few steps so that they were hidden around the bend of the narrow staircase. He was pleased to discover that she smelled faintly of soap and not the usual heavy French perfume she wore.

Seconds later, he could hear the third person’s steps pause when they reached the landing where Ron had caught up to her. Their movements were slow and deliberate as they stalked down the corridor toward them. Both stood transfixed to the spot listening to the sound of their movement. The tapestry was suddenly yanked back and a lit wand was thrust into its dark confines. Lavender tightened her grip on his arm as Snape’s face appeared in the staircase entrance. If he moved just a little further in, he was sure to spot them. Ron could feel her trembling against him as the professor took a quick sweeping look up the stairs. Snape squinted into the darkness for a brief moment before swooping back out of the entrance and down the hallway.

Lavender was shaking as she collapsed against him. Her reaction surprised him and he felt horrible for getting her into this. If he had just told her no like he should have from the beginning, then none of this would have had to happen.

“I’m sorry,” Ron whispered close to her ear, “This is all my fault.”

It was dark in the stairwell with only the light from the moon shining in at her back. With the hood of her cloak pulled up, Ron couldn’t make out her face in the faint light even though their faces were only centimeters away. Somehow the feel of her in his arms was different, and he had the sudden urge to see her face and read her expression. Then she was leaning in and her lips were pressed to his. Her lips were so tender and soft, almost hesitant. Not at all the usual hard control she exuded over him when they kissed. He gave himself up to the kiss and wrapped her tighter in his arms. He could almost believe it was a different woman he held against him as his pulse raced faster with a passion he had never felt before. She let out a soft moan in a voice that seemed familiar but at the same time different.

“Lavender?” he said, pulling back from her.

Then suddenly she wrenched herself out of his grasp and tore up the stairwell. Now truly bewildered, he watched her as she fled up the staircase and found himself recalling a similar scene from earlier in the day. In her haste to escape, she didn’t notice that her hood had fallen onto her back. The figure was recognizable but it wasn’t Lavender.

“Hermione?”

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