15. THE UNBREAKABLE VOW
Snow was swirling against the icy windows once more; Christmas was approaching fast. Hagrid had already singlehandedly delivered the usual twelve Christmas trees to the Great Hall; garlands of holly and tinsel had been twisted around the banisters of the stairs; everlasting candles glowed from inside the helmets of suits of armor and great bunches of mistletoe had been hung at intervals along the corridors. Large groups of girls tended to converge underneath the mistletoe bunches every time Harry went past, which caused blockages in the corridors; fortunately, however, Harry’s frequent nighttime wanderings had given him an unusually good knowledge of the castle’s secret passageways, so that he was often, without too much difficulty, to navigate mistletoe-free routes between classes.
Ron, who might once have found the necessity of these detours excuse for jealousy rather than hilarity, simply roared with laughter about it all. Although Harry much preferred this new laughing, joking Ron to the moody, aggressive model he had been enduring for the last few weeks, the improved Ron came at a heavy price. Firstly, Harry had to put up with the frequent presence of Lavender Brown, who seemed to regard any moment that she was not kissing Ron as a moment wasted; and secondly, Harry found himself once more the best friend of two people who seemed unlikely ever to speak to each other again.
Ron, whose hands and forearms still bore scratches and cuts from Hermione’s bird attack, was taking a defensive and resentful tone.
“She can’t complain,” he told Harry. “She snogged Krum. So she’s found out someone wants to snog me too. Well, it’s a free country. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Harry did not answer, but pretended to be absorbed in the book they were supposed to have read before Charms next morning (Quintessence: A Quest). Determined as he was to remain
friends with both Ron and Hermione, he was spending a lot of time with his mouth shut tight.
“I never promised Hermione anything, ” Ron mumbled. “I mean, all right, I was going to go to Slughorn’s Christmas party with her, but she never said… just as friends… I’m a free agent…”
Harry turned a page of Quintessence, aware that Ron was watching him. Ron’s voice trailed away in mutters, barely audible over the loud crackling of the fire, though Harry thought he caught the words “Krum” and “Can’t complain” again.
Hermione’s schedule was so full that Harry could only talk to her properly in the evenings, when Ron was, in any case, so tightly wrapped around Lavender that he did not notice what Harry was doing. Hermione refused to sit in the common room while Ron was there, so Harry generally joined her in the library, which meant that their conversations were held in whispers.
“He’s at perfect liberty to kiss whomever he likes,” said Hermione, while the librarian, Madam Pince, prowled the shelves behind them. “I really couldn’t care less.”
She raised her quill and dotted an ‘i’ so ferociously that she punctured a hole in her parchment. Harry said nothing. He thought his voice might soon vanish from the lack of use. He bent a little lower over Advanced Potion-Making and continued to make notes on Everlasting Elixirs, occasionally pausing to decipher the prince’s useful additions to Libatius Borage’s text.
“And incidentally,” said Hermione, after a few moments, “you need to be careful.”