The Potions classroom was silent, save for the muted rustle of ingredients being prepared, the hiss of a potion coming to a boiling point, and the sound of students frantically repeating instructions under their breath.

"Ron!" Hermione whispered. "What are you waiting for? Add the milk weed root!"

Ron glanced up from the slip of parchment—covered with his Charms notes—tucked inside his Potions textbook and saw that his potion was bubbling—a slow, rolling boil with the pockets of air making an ominous groan as they popped.

"Add the milk weed root!" Hermione repeated, and made a shooing gesture with her hands.

"Right." Ron hurried to scrape what he was pretty sure was the milk weed root he'd haphazardly minced at the beginning of class into the cauldron. Hermione's exaggerated sigh of relief was a good indicator that he'd chosen correctly.

"All that's left is four anti-clockwise stirs," she whispered. "And for heaven's sake, stop mumbling about your Charms notes! Either you're ready for the test, or you aren't! Studying another subject during Potions certainly isn't going to change that!"

Ron's flush could not be entirely attributed to the heat of the sludge-coloured vapour rising from his cauldron.

"And that is time." Professor Snape flicked his wand lazily and a stasis charm settled on each of the seventeen cauldrons manned by the fourth-year Gryffindors and Slytherins. "Fill a vial with a sample of your…" He sneered, staring into Neville's cauldron. "…Dare I call them potions, and set said sample on my desk." He turned away, his black robes fluttering in undulation.

"You call that a potion?" Malfoy jeered, walking past and jostling Ron's arm as he attempted to ladle what appeared to be quick dry cement into his vial.

"Watch it," Ron protested, scowling as he missed the vial and deposited a streak of grey goo on his robes.

Malfoy snorted. "I think you've actually managed to improve your appearance," he said as he continued to the front of the classroom. "Of course, that's only because you couldn’t very well look any worse, could you?"

Ron scowled again and dabbed ineffectively at the spot, succeeding only in smearing it over a larger area.

"Don't mind him," Hermione said briskly, casting a quick Evanesco to remove the stain. "He's only jealous because his potion is a sickly shade of lavender instead of royal purple, as it should be," she informed him smugly, letting her eyes drop to her own perfectly coloured potion. "Five stirs instead of four, I'd wager."

Draco's face turned the exact shade of Hermione's potion as he whipped around to face her, wand raised. "Shut it, you miserable Mu—"

"Potions," Professor Snape interrupted. "My desk. Now. Unless you are volunteering to assist Filch in cleaning the second floor loos. No?"

Everyone scarpered to the front of the classroom, knowing that Professor Snape's threats never fell under the category of idle.


Hermione beamed as she placed her perfectly brewed potion on the desk, ignoring Professor Snape's disdainful sneer. With a sheepish expression on his face, Harry slid his vial beside Hermione's. The colour of Harry's potion was perfect, but it appeared to have solidified, despite the application of Snape's stasis charm.

Ron moved to set his vial on the other side of Hermione's, but misjudged the distance and clipped the corner of the desk. Horrified, he watched as his admittedly dismal attempt at a potion oozed down the front of Snape's desk.

"Another zero for you, Mr Weasley," Professor Snape intoned, briefly watching the viscous liquid creep towards the floor before vanishing it with a smart flick of his wand.

Before Ron could release the retort on the tip of his tongue, Hermione seized his arm and dragged him to the door. Harry followed, though he cast a scathing look at Professor Snape before turning his back.

"It was Malfoy!" Ron burst out as soon as they were clear of the classroom. Heedless of the fact that they were still in the dungeons, the lair of Slytherins, he strode angrily down the corridor, waving his arms to emphasize each word. Face red, eyes bulging, he proclaimed, "I know it was him!"

Hermione shrugged. "It was awfully crowded," she pointed out, her tone reasonable. "And wasn't Malfoy ahead of us?"

Ron glared at her in silent recrimination, and then turned to Harry for support. "You saw him, didn't you?"

Harry's face scrunched into a pained grimace. "He couldn't have done. Malfoy was standing between Crabbe and Goyle, in front of the blackboard. Sorry, mate," he added apologetically. Incensed, Ron glared at both of them and turned on his heel, leaving them as he stomped away in the opposite direction.

"He'll be back to normal by lunch," Harry said, staring at Ron's retreating form. Harry and Hermione watched in horror as their friend, who'd been taking the stairs leading out of the dungeon two at a time, tripped on the step and fell hard enough to cause a resounding smack to echo down the corridor. He popped up again, adrenalin helping him to ignore the scrapes and bruises he had no doubt incurred. Eyes darting wildly to determine who all had been witness to his fall, Ron hurried up the staircase, this time gripping the railing rather firmly.

"Maybe supper, then," Harry said, revising his estimation of when their hot-headed friend would be able to put the events of the morning behind him.

Hermione shook her head and tugged on Harry's arm to urge him to their next class. "All the same, I think I'd sleep with one eye open if I were you," she advised.


Hermione sat at the breakfast table in the Great Hall the following day, an open book directly in front of her, a bowl of oatmeal off to the side. Taking an occasional bite of the rapidly cooling breakfast, she alternated between reading her Transfiguration textbook and keeping an eye on the entrance to the Great Hall to watch for Harry and Ron's arrival. As it was Saturday morning, she hadn't been surprised to be the first of the three in the Gryffindor common room. But it was also the day of the Gryffindor and Slytherin Quidditch match, and she knew that nerves would have both boys out of bed before long. Until then, she was content to nurse her bowl of oatmeal and brush up on some of the more obscure theories involved in Transfiguration. After all, they'd had their Charms test the previous day—Professor McGonagall was bound to set them a Transfiguration essay, and possibly a test, in the coming week.

She was on her second reading of Albright's treatise on the ethical implications of human transfiguration (the man was brilliant!) and oblivious to the world around her when she was startled by Harry dropping onto the seat next to hers and Ron, head down, slouching into the spot directly opposite her. She glanced up briefly at their subdued arrival, and turned back to her book almost immediately. It was usually best to wait until the boys had a cup of coffee and a rasher or two of bacon put away before attempting to engage them in conversation.

At least, if she wanted that conversation to consist of anything more than grunts and requests to pass the ketchup.

"Ready for the big match?" she asked when she deemed that the boys had sated their initial hunger.

Harry's answering grunt told her that she'd have been better off waiting until another link or two of sausage had disappeared. Ron's response, however, told her that perhaps she and Harry had been overly optimistic when they'd conjectured that the redhead's temper would cool quickly and that everything would be back to normal by breakfast.

Only he didn't appear to be angry. The slouched shoulders and inability to meet her gaze spoke of sulkiness, but there was something else...

"Ron?" she questioned, wondering if he'd actually managed to worry himself sick about the Quidditch match. "Ron, is everything okay?"

And though he'd consumed two cups of coffee, three eggs, and more bacon and sausage than could have possibly been produced by only one pig, he merely scowled and took a vicious bite of his strawberry preserves-laden toast.

Hermione glanced at Harry, hoping that his mental faculties were sufficiently engaged to give her a clue as to the nature of Ron's foul temper. His heaping plate of eggs, potatoes, and fried tomatoes seemed to have done its job, at least enough for Hermione to catch the grin he was hiding from Ron.

"It's not so bad," Harry said, addressing Ron. "See? Hermione didn't even notice!"

"Notice wh—" she started to demand, but stopped when Ron jerked his head to fix her with a beady glare.

"Well, she's noticed now," Ron retorted furiously as Hermione stared at his hair. She couldn't quite comprehend what she was seeing. Yes, Ron had been growing out his hair, and it was sometimes a little unruly on the days he woke up only in time to skid into breakfast before the house elves cleared it away, but she'd never ever seen such a combination of hair sticking straight up and plastering itself to his scalp in what could only be described as unattractive clumps. It was obvious he'd done his best to sort the mess, but he still resembled Hagrid as the Magical Creatures professor had appeared after some of his more violent encounters with his "pets".

"I think I still have some of that Sleakeasy potion leftover from the Yule Ball," she offered, but Ron's mouth dropped open, revealing the scrambled eggs he'd been chewing.

"Sleakeasy?" he questioned, his voice rising even as a chunk of sausage fell from his mouth and landed on his trousers. "You think Sleakeasy will work on this?" Using his fork, he gestured to the spot on his chin that Hermione hadn't yet noticed. How she'd missed it, she had no idea. It was red, huge, and absolutely angry in appearance. She managed to stifle a horrified gasp, but knew that she hadn't quite been successful in concealing her surprise.

"See?" Ron demanded, glaring at Harry.

"It's not so bad," Hermione said in an attempt to cajole him into a better mood, but even she could hear how her words fell flat. When Ron turned his scathing glare back to her, she flinched, but continued on grimly. "It's just a spot. Everyone gets them!"

"Just a spot!" The colour in Ron's cheeks rose until it almost matched the vibrant shade of the blemish on his chin. "Just a spot!" he repeated, his voice rising and capturing the attention of the Gryffindors seated nearest them, and a few of the Hufflepuffs at the next table. "It's not just a spot!" he insisted. "It's Malfoy!"

Hermione blinked. "No," she said, glancing toward the Slytherin table where Malfoy, already dressed in his Quidditch kit, was, indeed, smirking at them. Still, that was normal behaviour for the git. Why Ron was under the impression that Malfoy was responsible for his spot was unclear, but she had a feeling that he'd be enlightening her all too soon.

"It's Malfoy. He cursed me. I know it!" Ron thumped the table, as if causing the jelly jar to tremble would convince her that whatever cockamamie story he'd come up with had merit.

"Okay," Hermione said slowly, knowing that Ron wouldn't rest until he'd done his best to convince her. "Let's say Malfoy cursed you. When did he do it? And what did he curse you with?" She studied his painful looking spot and comically awry hair. "A general untidiness charm, perhaps?" she asked doubtfully. She'd never heard of one, but that wasn't to say that Malfoy hadn't managed to reverse a few of the more well-known personal appearance charms used in the dorms. Draco Malfoy might be a git, but he was an intelligent git.

Harry sighed heavily and tucked into his breakfast, determinedly wading through the mountain of food heaped on his plate. Apparently he'd already been subject to this conversation and didn't feel the need to pay strict attention.


That didn't bode well.

If even Harry wasn't supporting Ron's claim that Malfoy was at fault, it was almost certain that Malfoy was completely in the clear.

"Well, I don't know!" Ron blustered, finally responding to the questions Hermione had posed. "But he had to have done, hadn't he? Who else would do this to me?"

"Me, if I'd thought of it first," Harry muttered under his breath. Luckily, Ron was too busy glaring at the world in general to hear, but Hermione was left smothering a startled giggle while trying to look sympathetic.

"Well, I'm sure it will clear up on its own," she said soothingly. "And you can always go to Madam Pomfrey if you—"

"I'm not going to the infirmary for a bloody spot!" Ron exclaimed in an outraged whisper, finally seeming to grasp that it was in his best interest to at least try to keep his voice down. "Anyway, we have a Quidditch game to play, don't we, mate?"

Harry set his fork down on his bare plate and nodded. "That we do. Almost time for warm up, I reckon."

Hermione watched in amusement as both boys leapt to their feet and practically ran from the Great Hall, leaving their plates picked completely clean. It was almost, she thought, like watching video documentaries of the carcasses left behind by piranhas. Her smile faltered, however, when she saw Malfoy follow in Harry and Ron's wake, his stride both powerful and arrogant. Could Ron possibly be correct? Could Malfoy be behind Ron's unfortunate appearance?

No, she thought, confirming her original decision. If nothing else, Malfoy thought Ron was already hideous—it wouldn't occur to him that it was possible for him to look worse.

Belatedly, she realized that she hadn't thought to ask Ron about his injuries from tripping up the stairs the previous day. She hadn't seen any bruises, but she wasn't likely to if the majority of his injuries were on his legs.

Well. Even Harry was capable of casting a few basic healing charms, so hopefully the Gryffindor Quidditch team wouldn't be at a disadvantage because of Ron's clumsiness.

Or, at least no more so than usual...

With a last, longing glance at her textbook, she flipped it closed and placed it in her bag. It was awkward to read at Quidditch games, and she couldn’t help feeling a little guilty about not paying more attention to the match. It never failed that by an hour into the game it was almost physically painful trying to stop herself from reading something, anything, to distract from the mind-numbing boredom.

Ninety minutes into the match, Hermione was on the edge of her seat, her jaw gaping, and her book untouched. The score was a somewhat disconcerting 185 to 30 with Slytherin leading. The lopsided score, however, was not the subject of Hermione's attention. Rather, it was Ron's flailing, seemingly useless arms and legs that had her riveted to the action playing out above and below her.

"And Ronald Weasley has let in yet another goal!" Luna Lovegood's high, wispy voice carried clearly to the far reaches of the Quidditch pitch, thanks to the use of the magical equivalent of a microphone. "One has to wonder if the Gryffindor Keeper is attempting to lull the Slytherins into a false sense of security, or if he's been the victim of a rogue band of Kerflewhatitzs. The lack of balance, compromised depth perception, and general idiocy would point to this being the work of Kerflewhatizts, but the cocksure demeanor of the Slytherin team shouldn't be dismissed so easily. Just look as Draco Malfoy practices his Wronski feint, high above the crowd. It's as if he knows that he probably won't even have to find the snitch in order to secure a Slytherin victory! Oh! And Zabini has scored his fifth goal of the game! If Mr Weasley's goal is to lure the Slytherins into a false sense of security, I'd say he can consider the plan a success!"

The sound of a brief scuffle was heard as Headmistress McGonagall wrestled the microphone away from the Ravenclaw.

"For Merlin's sake, Weasley, block the blasted Quaffle!" McGonagall snapped.

Beside her, Professor Snape smirked.

"Er, carry on, teams," McGonagall concluded, passing the microphone back to Luna as she patted her hair back into place.

"Yes," said Luna serenely. "I do agree with the Headmistress. Ron, if you're listening, I think the Slytherins have been lulled sufficiently."

All eyes in the stands turned to Ron, who waved sheepishly and let in yet another goal.

"No, Ron," Luna explained patiently. "I think you misunderstood. I said you could stop letting in the Quaffle now. Oh, dear. Perhaps it really is the Kerflewhatitzs! Ronald! Bounce three times on your left foot and then turn around twice. Tilt your head to the right and the Kerflewhatitzs should come right out!"

To the amusement of everyone in the stands except the Gryffindors, Ron began to follow her instructions, stopping only when Astoria Greengrass, the first female to play on a Slytherin team in a century, slipped another goal past him.

"Oh, dear," Luna said with a sigh. "Perhaps it wasn't the Kerflewhatitzs at all."

Professor Snape's smirk went unnoticed due to a highly undignified snort from the Headmistress.


"I'm telling you—Malfoy cursed me!" Ron repeated for what Hermione was fairly certain was the millionth time. "Who else would want us to lose to Slytherin?" he demanded. "The Hufflepuffs have always cheered for us, and so have the Ravenclaws. Well, most of the time, they have!" he amended when Hermione's eyebrows shot up.

"Ron," she said, biting her lip, "are you quite sure that you've been cursed? I mean, there have been other games when—"

"Hermione!" Ron exclaimed, his eyes bulging and his face the colour of an overripe tomato. "You— you can't think— That is not how I normally play! I'm a good Keeper! Tell her, Harry!"

Harry looked up from the Snitch he'd been playing with. Gryffindor had managed to win the match due to Harry's spectacular capture of the Snitch while Malfoy had been at the other end of the pitch, show boating. The resulting party in the Gryffindor common room had been uncharacteristically subdued, due to Ron's abysmal performance as Keeper. Harry, Hermione, and Ron were the last three left in the common room, and Hermione suspected that the only reason Ron wasn't already in bed, trying to forget the horrible match, was that he was a little afraid of what his so-called friends might do to him in his sleep. He was convinced he'd already been cursed by Malfoy, and didn't want to gamble with another attempt.

"Sorry," Harry said with a poorly affected air of nonchalance. "I wasn't paying attention for a minute there. Did you say something?"

Ron sputtered in outrage, but Hermione hid a smile behind her hand, pretending to yawn. Ron threw his hands in the air and stalked up the stairs to the boys dormitory, apparently willing to chance any retaliatory pranks his dorm mates had contrived.

"You think Malfoy cursed him?" Harry asked when Ron was well out of earshot.

"He could have, I suppose," Hermione answered with a shrug. "But I don't really think so. Draco's a prat, but aside from snarky comments, he doesn't go looking for trouble."

Harry tossed the Snitch three feet in the air and deftly caught it. "Yeah, that's what I figure, too. He did play a fair bit worse than usual," Harry said thoughtfully. "I mean, some of those Quaffles he let in he should have blocked without even thinking about it."

"Power of suggestion again?" Hermione pondered. "You remember how well he played when he thought you'd dosed his pumpkin juice with Felix Felicis."

"True enough," Harry agreed. "If he believes that he's cursed with bad luck…"

"Exactly," Hermione said briskly, tidying up the detritus left behind from the Gryffindor celebration. Even a subdued House party seemed to generate an astonishing amount of rubbish, and she didn't feel comfortable leaving all of it for the house elves to manage.

"You know, I'd have a lot more sympathy for him if he wasn't so defensive," she said thoughtfully.

"Yeah. I know what you mean," Harry agreed, taking some of the rubbish from her and tossing it into the bin. "I tried talking to him in the change room after the match and he nearly bit my head off!"

"I'm sure he's horribly embarrassed," Hermione mused.

"Doesn't look it," he muttered. "Just looks angry, if you ask me."

Hermione gave him a good long look, silently reminding Harry of all the times he'd reacted in anger instead of choosing a healthier way of approaching a problem.

"Right," he said, flushing a little. "Still…"

"I know," she agreed, tossing the last of the rubbish in a bin. "But what can we do? Eventually his luck will turn around and he'll either realize that he was never cursed, or he'll think that the curse has been lifted. I really don't think there's anything we can say to him at this point that will help."

Harry tucked the Snitch into his pocket and nodded. "You're right." Handing Hermione the book she'd kept close to her all day, he gave her shoulder a squeeze. "Don't listen to anything he says when he's grumpy," he reminded her. "You know none of it's true, and he'll feel bad about it when everything's back to normal."

Hermione nodded glumly. Being on the outs with either of her best friends always made her feel out of sorts and slightly sick, even when she knew that she hadn't done anything wrong.

"Hey," Harry said, frowning. "You're not going to let this get you down, are you?"

Hermione bit her lip and looked down. How could she explain how awful the conflict with Ron made her feel? Harry was able to laugh off Ron's idiocy, but she couldn't. His unfeeling attitude brought back too many memories of the days when she was ostracized, with no friends to sit with.

"He'll come around," Harry repeated, and then he completely surprised her by drawing her into a hug. Yes, she'd hugged him almost every time she'd seen him after a school holiday, but he had never instigated a hug, and certainly not one designed to comfort, as this hug most certainly was. For just a moment she allowed herself to relax and to rest her cheek against his shoulder.

"Thanks, Harry," she said, disentangling herself from his arms. "I feel better now," she admitted shyly.

He smiled at her, a quirky upturning of his lips that never failed to make her smile, and she made her way up the stairs to the girls dormitory, knowing that she had at least one friend who cared about her.


Sunday was a quiet day, with Ron emerging from his room only long enough to attend meals, his appetite apparently unaffected by the stress he was under. Harry and Hermione remained in the common room, ostensibly revising, but really watching to see that Ron didn't do anything too stupid in his anger. By Sunday evening the spot on his chin was barely noticeable, and his hair was back to its normal state of unruliness, rather than the heightened mess it had been earlier. He even emerged from his room long enough to sit at a table with them for a half-hour while he completed an essay, though he didn't speak more than a handful of words in that time.

Perhaps Monday morning would be the morning they'd been hoping for; the one when Ron returned to normal?

Hermione was cautiously optimistic when Ron slid into his seat at breakfast. He was well-groomed, blemish-free, and not scowling; all quite good signs that he was returning to normal. She allowed her hope to rise as he piled his plate high with pancakes, sausage, and scrambled eggs.

So far, so good. Testing the waters, she casually mentioned their classes for the day, and Ron grunted.

Success! She turned to Harry with a delighted smile on her face, only to find that he was staring at a point over her shoulder, his face a mixture of irritation and resignation.

"Malfoy," he said, and Hermione whipped her head to find the Slytherin prince standing behind her, smirking.

"I see you've managed to clean up the weasel," he sneered. "Tell me, did you have to take him to a Muggle veterinarian to get his fur trimmed?" With a cruel laugh, he turned and strode from the Great Hall, Crabbe and Goyle close on his heels.

"Oh, that's it," Ron said, his fork clattering to the table as he scrambled to his feet.

"No, Ron! Don't!" Hermione urged, grasping his forearm in an attempt to keep him from storming off. "It's what he wants!"

"Oh, he'll get what he's asking for," Ron muttered, eyes narrowed as he stared after Malfoy, "but he won't much like it, I can guarantee you that." He shook off Hermione's grasp and marched after Malfoy, purpose animating every step, his face growing more and more purple. He continued to mutter incoherently as he exited the Great Hall, and more than one pair of eyes followed him.

"Oh, Merlin," Hermione sighed. "He's gone round the bend this time, hasn't he?"

Harry nodded. "'Fraid so."

Ron disappeared through the massive double doors.

Hermione cocked her head to the side, still staring after him. "Do you think we should go after him?"

"What?" Harry looked up from his oatmeal. "Did you say something?"

Hermione paused. "No?" she answered, depressed at the thought of having to chase after Ron and break up an altercation between him and the Slytherins. She gamely took a sip of her pumpkin juice, but set it down almost immediately.

"We have to go after him," she said, resigned. "If we don't, he's likely to escalate the situation until it's not safe for any Gryffindors to walk the halls."

Harry took another sausage from the platter in front of him. After finishing it in three large bites, he nodded. "Yeah. 'Spose so." He looked longingly at the rest of the food on his plate.

"Right." Hermione nodded decisively. "So, we're going to follow him, then."

"Definitely." He paused. "Are you going to eat that bacon?"

"What?" Hermione looked down at her plate. "Oh. No, help yourself"

Harry snatched it off her plate before she could change her mind and popped the entire slice in his mouth. "So, we're definitely going after him, right?"

"Definitely!" She paused. "You know, he's probably fine. I mean, we would have heard screaming by now if something had gone wrong, right?"

Harry nodded vigorously. "Yeah! Yeah, we would have. I mean, most hexes hurt a lot, right? And Ron's not exactly stoic, right? If he were getting hexed, we'd totally be able to hear him from here."

As if on cue, a muffled scream filtered into the Great Hall, and Neville came running in, careening to a half in front of the Gryffindor table.

"It''s... it's Ron!" he gasped. "Malfoy! Hexed!" Pressing a hand to his chest, he collapsed on the bench beside Lee Jordan, who edged away from him.

"Right," Hermione said. She stood reluctantly, pulling Harry along with her. "Where did you say they were, Neville?"

"Just follow," he panted, "just follow the sparkly purple lights. You'll find him."

Hermione tugged Harry's hand and the pair quickly exited the Great Hall, ignoring the many pairs of eyes on them.

"You reckon he's in any real trouble?" Harry asked as they stared up at the huge staircase. Tiny purple sparkles cascaded around them, bouncing off the tiles and stones of the ancient castle.

"Malfoy wouldn't actually hurt him too badly, I don't think. It's probably just something embarrassing," Hermione conjectured.

"Painful and embarrassing, more like," Harry guessed. "Malfoy's not above inflicting a little pain."

"These sparkles don’t look particularly painful," Hermione said, examining one as it flitted around her before landing on the ground, "but you never know, I suppose."

They climbed the stairs, following the trail of magical sparks. Only twenty feet down the second floor corridor, they spotted Ron, desperately attempting to brush the sparks off his robes. Malfoy was standing in front of him, his wand trained on the scrambling wizard.

"What's wrong with you?" Ron shouted, pointing his wand at Malfoy. "Purple sparkles, Malfoy? Really?"

"Oh, you don't like them?" he sneered, and flicked his wand in a motion that Hermione had never seen before.

Ron retaliated, shouting and waving his own wand, and then dropped like a stone to the floor of the corridor, purple sparkles drifting to cover him.

"Malfoy!" Harry shouted, running towards the tableau of frozen duelers. "What did you do?"

Malfoy shook his head, still staring at Ron's prone form. "Nothing!" he protested. "Well, yeah, the sparks were mine," he amended when Hermione strode toward him angrily, "but that's it! Nothing I did should have caused this," he said scornfully, nudging Ron's body with his dragon hide boots.

"Oh, joy," a familiar voice hissed. "More Gryffindor brawling in the halls, I see."

"Professor Snape!" Malfoy exclaimed. "I didn't do—" he waved his hands to encompass the mess on the floor (including Ron's crumpled form) that had been caused by the wand fight, "any of this. Aside from the sparks, of course." He frowned, looking at the iridescent particles still floating in the air. "Though I don't quite understand how they—" He stopped abruptly. "In any case, it isn't my fault he's lying on the floor!"

"Of course," Professor Snape agreed. "Run along to your class now, Mr Malfoy. I'll sort this out."

"But, sir!" Harry protested.

Professor Snape held up his hand to forestall his protests. "I'll get to the bottom of this, Potter, not to worry. And if Malfoy was involved, well, I do know where the boy sleeps, don't I?"

"Yes, sir," Harry admitted reluctantly.

Professor Snape continued to stare at the prone student as Malfoy, his cronies, and the looky-loos reluctantly followed the professor's orders to return to class. Hermione and Harry, however, remained, eyes wide as the purple sparks all gently floated to cover Ron.

"I suppose you two observed the unfolding of this unpleasantness?" Professor Snape asked, still studying Ron intently.

"Actually, no," Hermione said, when it appeared that Harry was choosing to communicate only through glares. "We only came after Neville rushed into the Great Hall yelling something about Ron, Malfoy, and hexing."

"Hm. Could it be that the two of you are developing a latent strain of common sense?" His eyes flickered over them. "Apparently not," he decided, narrowing his eyes in response to Harry's glare.

"Professor, we didn't see what happened, but Malfoy did deliberately goad Ron before leaving the Great Hall," Hermione said, anxious to sway his attention from Harry.

"Which I am sure was not difficult to do. Mr Weasley has been even more hostile toward Mr Malfoy as of late, has he not?"

Hermione nodded. "Yes, sir. Ever since Potions class when his vial broke. He's convinced that Malfoy did it."

"Of course he is," Professor Snape said drily. "After all, the fault could not possibly lie with his own clumsiness, could it?"

Hermione flushed at the criticism, but couldn't disagree. "We tried to tell him, sir," she said, "but he didn't listen. And then when he had that awful—" She stopped abruptly, knowing that Ron would be furious if she mentioned his unfortunate appearance on Saturday.

"Quidditch game?" Professor Snape supplied, causing Harry to glare even harder. "Yes, it was rather abysmal. Or was that not to what you were referring?"

Hermione swallowed. "Well, yes. That, too." Cringing at his penetrating look, she threw caution to the wind and said, "I was thinking of his unmanageable hair and facial blemish, sir. He seemed to think that Malfoy was at fault for all of it."

"I see." He turned his attention back to Ron's crumpled form. "He's had a rather bad run of luck, has he?"

"Yes, sir," Hermione responded, relieved that he seemed to be at least listening to them, rather than automatically assuming that Ron, and by extension, she and Harry, were at fault.

"He did perform rather worse than usual at the Quidditch match," he said thoughtfully, with only a trace of smugness. "I wonder..." He flicked his wand in a complicated series of swishes, murmuring under his breath. Hermione watched, fascinated, as a series of runes appeared over Ron's still-sparkled form.

"What is it, sir?" she asked, transfixed. "What do they say?"

Professor Snape scowled at the runes before flicking them out of existence. "They say that Mr Weasley is an even bigger dunderhead than I had previously believed. And that," he intoned darkly, "is saying something."

"Just tell us," Harry demanded, as if realizing his silent glares were unlikely to garner him any information. After all, Severus Snape had elevated glaring to a level that Harry was unlikely ever to approach. "Did Malfoy do it?"

Professor Snape's smile was not friendly. "No, Potter. In this case Mr Weasley has no one to blame but himself."

"What?" Hermione's voice was little more than a squeak. "But… how? Why would he…?"

"I will not pretend to understand what reasoning, if, indeed, there was any reasoning, led to this comedy of errors. I suspect it was merely bad luck that brought him to this point." He looked away and tapped his chin, as if trying to recall a memory. "He spilled his potion in Friday's class, correct?"

Hermione and Harry nodded.

"Did some of the potion, perhaps, land on his robes?"

Hermione pointed to a soiled spot on Ron's robe. "Yes, sir. I believe—"

"Nah, that's just pumpkin juice from supper last night," he corrected her. "You left before he managed to spill an entire pitcher on himself."

Hermione wrinkled her nose. "Ew. And he didn't wash because..."

Harry snorted.

"Be that as it may," Professor Snape interjected, "would you say it reasonable to assume that his robe absorbed most of his potion?"

They both nodded again.

"And this is the class when you were compelled to instruct him to pay more attention to his potion and less to the textbook he believed he was studying without my knowledge?" he asked, giving Hermione a very pointed look that caused her to squirm.

"Yes, sir," she whispered. "But I don't see what—"

"Of course you do not," he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "You, Miss Granger, are not so much of a dunderhead as to inadvertently cast a bad luck charm on a hitherto innocuous potion, and then manage to spill said potion on yourself. The fool should thank his lucky stars that he did not somehow manage to ingest it," he muttered. "He would not have been likely to make it through the Quidditch match."

"So you're saying," Hermione said slowly, "that he really was cursed."

Professor Snape nodded.

"But it wasn't Malfoy," Harry continued. "Ron actually cursed himself."

Professor Snape nodded again. "Mostly. I suspect that Draco did, indeed have something to do with the purple sparkles, but as they are doing Mr Weasley no harm and may, in fact, have been compounded by his own curse..." His voice trailed off smugly, and Hermione knew that Malfoy would be more likely to receive praise than censure from his Head of House.

The conversation faltered as the three stared at Ron, watching as the purple sparkles seemed to adhere to his robes.

"He should wake up soon, shouldn't he?" Hermione asked, even though she rather dreaded explaining the truth of his condition to him.

"I assume so," Professor Snape said, sounding unconcerned. "The charm I cast earlier indicated no adverse effects."

The three of them continued to stare. Ron twitched as the sparkles swirled and covered every bit of exposed clothing and skin.

"Is Mr Weasley fond of purple?" Professor Snape inquired.

Harry shot him an incredulous look. "No," he said shortly, belatedly tacking on a "sir" at the end.

"Pity," he remarked drily.

"Shouldn't we do something to help him?" Hermione asked hesitantly as the sparkles which could not find a free spot on Ron's robes grouped together to form a flower and gently lowered themselves to settle into a textured pattern on top of the first purple layer. "Renervate him? Remove the sparkles?"

Professor Snape sighed and flicked his wand in an indolent fashion.

Nothing happened.

"Do not alarm yourself," he said when Hermione gasped. "The fact that he remains unresponsive merely indicates that his condition does not require immediate attention. He will wake when he is ready, in perfect health." He paused. "Aside from the sparkles."

"You can't get rid of those?" Harry asked, surprised. Hermione couldn't help but be glad he'd asked; she was wondering the same thing but didn't want to irk the volatile man. Instead of taking offense, Professor Snape merely studied the young man whose robes now boasted a raised heart in addition to the flower.

"It almost seems a shame," he said softly.

"It really is an impressive bit of magic," Hermione agreed. "The detail work alone..." She trailed off as Harry stared at her with an incredulous expression. "What?" she demanded, crossing her hands over her chest. "Look at the petals of the flower! And the extra edging on the hem!"

The corners of Harry's lips twitched. "They do suit him better than those dress robes he wore for the Yule Ball," he agreed.

"Still," she said with a sigh, "I suppose we ought to at least make the attempt..." She glanced up at Professor Snape, who nodded.

"Very well. Since I've no idea what caused this unusual conglomeration of sparkles, I'll perform a blunderbuss enchantment ender."

Hermione watched as the experienced wizard flicked his wand in a series of movements that struck her as looking entirely more sloppy than any other spell he'd cast. She was, therefore, unsurprised when Ron's robes retained their new appearance. In fact, if anything, they looked even more brilliant. The professor, however, merely shrugged.

"Well, we tried," he said, sounding almost pleased that his spell had not been effective.

She was about to question his choice of spell when they heard the clatter of feet.

"Won-Won! Oh, Won-Won! What's happened to you?" Lavender Brown skidded to a halt and dropped to her knees at Ron's side. "I'm here, Won-Won!" she cried, throwing her arms around him and pressing her face to his chest.

Hermione rolled her eyes at Lavender's absurdity, and though she couldn't be certain, she thought that Professor Snape sighed through his nose.

"Lav?" Ron said, eyes fluttering open and causing a few stray sparkles to rise into the air and then land in his hair.

"Yes, it's me!" she said, sniffing. "I heard that Malfoy had done something terrible to you, so I came to help!"

Help? Hermione couldn't but wonder. How? By cleansing him with her tears? She highly doubted that the girl had any phoenix blood running through her veins…

Professor Snape sneered at the blubbering girl, his disdain for her theatrics obvious. "We've done all we can here. I am certain that Mr Weasley will recover posthaste under your tender ministrations, Miss Brown."

"And what have you done to your robes?" Lavender asked, barely acknowledging Professor Snape. "They're lovely! Did you decorate them just for me? Oh! Look! A heart!" She beamed, hands clasped to her chest. "Oh, Won-Won!"

Ron's eyes darted to his robes, and he shrieked in horror. "What...? How did...?" He started pawing frantically at himself in an attempt to remove the purple sparkles.

"Since you are obviously recovered," Professor Snape said, staring down at Ron as if he were a bug scuttling across the floor, "I will leave you to sort yourself out before class. Do attempt to be on time, Mr Weasley. We are brewing a challenging potion today which requires considerable presence of mind. I would not like to see you… distracted."

Ron stopped attacking his robes long enough to stammer, "Yes, sir."

"Oh, and Mr Weasley?"

Ron looked up from glaring at the purple sparkly heart.

"I hadn't thought that your taste in robes ran to such… frippery."

Ron's face reddened, and Hermione chuckled nervously. "We'd best get to class, then," she said, nudging Harry.

"We'll be right there," Lavender said, still beaming at Ron. "I'll walk with Won-Won to make sure he's better," she promised, her large eyes doe-like as she helped him gather the books he'd scattered when he fell.

"Er, right," Harry said. "See you there, then, mate?" he asked, but Ron was too busy blushing at Lavender's attention to notice.

"I'd say he's fine," Harry whispered to Hermione as they gave Ron one last look before heading down the corridor.

Hermione looked back over her shoulder, but nodded. "Yes, he appears perfectly recovered." She paused. "Do you think we ought to tell him? You know, about cursing himself?"

Harry made a face and took her by the elbow as they made their way through a group of seventh year students crowding the corridor. "Nah," he said, giving her a brilliant smile. "I think he's happier this way, don't you?"

Hermione looked back and saw Ron attempting to make his way down the corridor, his sparkly robes attracting attention, and Lavender hanging on his arm. "Definitely," she agreed, returning Harry's grin with her own.

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Author’s Notes

Wretched Ron was written for my DD#1. I hope you enjoy this silly bit of nonsense, my dear! *hugs* I'm so glad that we share a love for the Harry Potter characters.

Graphics and editing were provided by the lovely and talented MaryN. Thank you for everything that you do, my friend.

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