Today, the south grounds are especially hilly.
Hogwarts shifts terrain fairly often; the ground is as whimsical and changeable as the stairs, though most of the time the alterations are slow and gradual. It took two years for the pond near the Forbidden Forest to adopt its current crescent-moon shape. But these rock-studded hills, so steep and close as to make even a stroll difficult -- they sprang up overnight.
"Never done this before," Ron says, as he clambers up a new slope, clover and stone beneath his palms. "D'ya think something's wrong with the grounds?"
"They shift because of the spell that keeps the school hidden." Hermione's voice is distant, though she's not that far behind him. She keeps trying to walk instead of climb, and her progress is slower than his. "Dumbledore cast the spell years ago, so when he -- when he died, someone else had to cast it again." The wind ruffles her hair, temporarily obscuring her face from him. "The new magic is different."
Everything about the school changed when Dumbledore died two days ago. Ron thinks, Hogwarts died with him -- but that's not true, is it? The school will survive, somehow. What ended was Ron's childhood. He and Hermione are on new terrain now in more ways than one.
He clambers up onto the nearest flat spot and holds out his hand for her; she takes it easily, as though it meant nothing, and neither of them lets go when she joins him at the top.
To one side is Hogwarts, black stone against a sky bleached to gray by the threat of rain. To the other is the countryside they can only look upon but not travel to, not without breaking the rules. For some reason, Ron cares a bit more about school rules today; it's always easier to respect such things once they're seen as part of the past.
They've come out here before, to the meadow this place used to be, but never alone. Harry's always been with them. If it were all three of them, being silly -- or him and Harry being silly, more likely, with Hermione telling them to be sensible -- he'd know how to act.
It's just Ron and Hermione now. Of course, he's thought endlessly about what he might do alone with Hermione before. Yet those imagined kisses and jokes belong to the thoughtless kid Ron used to be, not the person he's becoming now. Dumbledore's death changes everything, even this.
He fell for Hermione as a boy, but he left it too late and let their childish attraction be left behind in childhood. Whatever happens between them afterward will happen between a man and a woman. And that's almost too scary to contemplate.
Hermione says what she always says. "You'd know all this if you'd just read Hogwarts: A History."
This is the part where he ignores her, except that Ron finds himself saying, "I guess I ought to look at that eventually."