a/n: Okay, it's here, at last! I did promise it would be ready last week, and actually I finished it yesterday, so I almost fulfilled my promise. And this is the longest chapter so far. Happy? I really hope you like this ending! I'm not so sure about it myself, but somehow it just came out this way.
Thank you for your reviews, and sorry for the bad bad Latin. I guess I shouldn't have trusted the on-line dictionary. It seemed very trustworthy…perhaps I'm gullible. Sorry.
A Pop-quiz in Affection
"And you reckon that this...let's put it nicely...pathetic attempt at kissing convinced me? Little lady, little lady, what do you take me for – a Hufflepuff? You simply can't properly respect my services and thus try to run away. Luckily, I'll help you even when you yourself have no sense to ask for it." For the third time the looming wand raised. Hermione couldn't help it, in her head an eerie voice echoed over and over again: three times the charm three times the charm three times the charm...
"It's really not needed, thanks." It was Ron! His voice didn't sound bashful or unconvincing or angry or shocked or anything Hermione would have expected it to sound like. It was calm and collected and very...mature. There was even a hint of gentle amusement in it, when he continued: "As you guessed, Hermione really isn't one for public displays. She does kiss much better in private." Nonchalantly – how could he act nonchalantly! – Ron wrapped his long arm around Hermione's waist and pulled her to him. "I think we've all over-reacted a bit, here. I don't know all of it, but I guess I should thank you for your interference, 'cause I wouldn't have gotten together with Hermione, otherwise. So, thanks a bunch and all that, but I don't think we need any spells anymore."
What had happened, here? Was this Ron? The Ron who always blushed and stuttered when someone next to him talked about feelings? How was she reduced to this blabbering, unconvincing idiot, and Ron, the hot-tempered, never-ahead-thinking Ron was the one in charge of the situation?
The pictures in Hogwarts, a History had advised that the key to conquering unruly portraits was to inform them convincingly and firmly enough that their interference wasn't needed. As the portraits only helped when asked to help, they were also supposed to stop helping when asked to do so. The only difficulty in it was that one had to be truly, honestly convincing, and support their claim of not needing assistance with some tangible evidence.
Ron had been Hermione's tangible evidence. Tangible, lanky and red-headed evidence. According to her plan, she would have presented Ron, told Derek they were in love without his help and thus disarmed the portrait. But somehow Derek had just dismissed her assurances and then Ron had sounded much more believable than Hermione, even though the redhead should have been totally flabbergasted over the whole situation.
At the very moment, Captain Derek O'Samuelson was meticulously scrutinizing the confident-looking young man in front of him. It could not have been told whether he noticed the smallest little tremble of Ron's hand wrapped around Hermione's waist. He maybe didn't see the tips of Ron's ears glowing red. It was wholly possible that he didn't see, with his portrait-sight, even if the shine of the said ears almost competed with an adequate lumos-spell. And if Derek didn't notice the ears, it was entirely believable he also overlooked Hermione's expression of complete surprise and her rigid posture.
He must have missed all these signs of awkwardness and lies, as after a few minutes of scrutiny, he smiled a lazy, all-too-knowing smile and said: "Well, well, well...it seems you really do not need my services anymore. I am so happy to have been of assistance, little lady, young man."
"Thank you," Hermione breathed, overwhelming relief sweeping over her. They weren't to get hexed! They were safe! She couldn't wait to get out of the painting's sight and suddenly, Ron found himself in the position that had become painfully familiar during the past day: dragged along by running Hermione. Only Derek's chuckles followed them, no spells or hexes.
When they arrived at the end of the corridor, Hermione stopped dead. Glancing hurriedly at the portrait in the corridor's other end, she whispered: "Cover me. Stand between him and me!" Ron could only do as he was told, and Hermione drew her wand, flicked it swiftly across the corridor and muttered a few Latin words. A glowing line appeared on the floor, closing the passageway off. It reminded Ron of something.
"Hey! Is that what I think it is?"
Hermione was looking smug. "Yes. An age-restriction line. I honestly can't believe Dumbledore didn't think of it. This way, only people over nineteen years old can cross the line and see Derek. The students are safe and the Professors still have access." Then Hermione remembered what had just happened, what she had done, what Ron now knew. Her smug expression faltered and she lowered her gaze to the floor, mumbled something incoherent and started hurriedly towards the Gryffindor Tower. Ron's hand on her shoulder didn't only stop her, it made her jump.
"Hey," he said softly, "didn't you forget something?" He was holding Harry's cloak. There was no way Hermione was going to get under the cloak with Ron again, absolutely no way!
"Um...I don't think we'll need it."
"Maybe we won't. Maybe I just...um...like to...bugger!" Ron's smoothness had seemingly vanished together with the danger. Somehow, it made Hermione feel safer and more confident when Ron wasn't so sure of himself. She only had a moment to bask in the familiar, secure feeling, as Ron collected himself and asked, quite bluntly and abruptly: "So that was Derek?"
"There never was any real bloke you sneaked off to meet?" Now there was a hint of self-satisfied glee in his voice. Hermione almost wanted to lie, just to show him, but she was still embarrassed and couldn't concentrate enough to pull off any kind of deceit.
"And you asked romantic advice from a portrait?" This question sounded somehow condescending and reprimanding, very much like Hermione's own voice when Ron did or said something naive or stupid.
"How do you know if I did?"
"Hermione. That bloke wanted to cast a love-spell on us. Everybody knows magical portraits aren't capable of doing anything to you without you asking for it. After you ask, they might get quite crazy with their efforts to help. It can get nasty."
"So...um...why did you ask his help?"
"Isn't that obvious?" She meant it to be scathing, but it came out weak and almost pleading. Ron watched Hermione who, for once, looked uncertain and frightened. Then his features softened at the same time as his ears got still redder.
"Hermione. You wanted me to lo-...to like you?"
She only nodded, miserable and not raising her eyes from the floor.
"Oh. And...um...what was that spell supposed to do, then?"
She didn't want to answer, she really didn't. She had to, though. Ron deserved to know. Even if he could have, still one more time, been a thick-head, even if he could, even if he should have ignored what she had involuntarily revealed; now that he had interpreted the situation correctly, he had the right to know it all.
"It was supposed to change your perspective of things...of me, my appearance...and your feelings towards me, so that you would think I was the prettiest girl there is and that you were...inlovewithme, even when you aren't, really. I'm sorry. I didn't know about wizarding portraits. I was awfully stupid. And...I'm really sorry that I kissed you. It must have been disgusting. You were right; I don't know how to kiss."
"You could...um...practise?" He just blurted that out, as if suggesting she should study for her N.E.W.T.S.
That was too much. Here she was, swallowing all the rest of her pride and apologising and grovelling – figuratively – at his feet and he had the audacity to mock her! He could have at least lain the kiss hadn't been so bad! "How dare you!" Her eyes were glistening with tears and she could hear them in her shaking voice. She tried to get away, but at some point, Ron had taken a firm hold of her shoulders and she couldn't escape. What humiliation!
"Hermione, listen to me! Please! I just...damn it! I meant I wanted to practise with you, okay!" He was almost shouting and it wasn't only his ears that were red, anymore.
"What?" Hermione sputtered. Had Derek managed to spell Ron after all? She tried to look into Ron's eyes and reached for her wand. Unfortunately, Ron noticed what she was doing, and with uncharacteristic perception, interpreted her actions correctly.
"Oh no, Hermione, you are not going to cast Finite Incantatum again!" He grabbed her right wrist and prevented her from drawing her wand. "That's what it was all about in the Common Room, eh? The Fat Lady was in with it and when I told you I think you look bloody gorgeous, you immediately concluded I was hexed?"
She couldn't even nod, but apparently her silence spoke three-page monologues. Ron sighed resignedly, let go of her wrist and tried to catch her eyes, holding her by the shoulders again "Now you listen to me, Hermione. I have...damn it, I have wanted to say this for a while, but I reckoned you weren't interested and, well, there were these other girls and..um...how can a bloke say no? It's just not polite, you know? Um...I mean you always say I shouldn't be rude! How am I supposed not to be rude and still reject them?"
In the middle of Ron's blabbering, Hermione suddenly realized he was telling the truth. The boy – man – really simply couldn't refuse the girls that asked him out. That wasn't even so unbelievable, because...well, it was Ron. Ron didn't do subtle. He probably couldn't even think of an answer between a straight rejection and total compliance. He was being...being...bloody polite and an idiot, not in love with those Hufflepuffs! And she, she could have done the same as them and asked him and he wouldn't have refused her either and she could have convinced him and...except that she was a really bad kisser with no experience whatsoever and Ron…was still talking.
"Um...it's just that...I really like you, without any spells...I mean, damn it, you probably won't believe me now...um...hey! I can prove it! You said the spell was supposed to make me think you were the prettiest girl there is?"
"Hah! I don't think you are! I'm not hexed!" Ron was grinning triumphantly, and his smile faltered only a fraction when Hermione let out a small sniff.
"You..you don't think I'm pretty?" Had she been feeling more composed and calm, she maybe could have been able to see Ron's exclamation in correlation with his earlier confession. Now, in the tumultuous state of mind Derek and all that had happened had left her, she only heard Ron triumphantly exclaiming he thought she was ugly. Hermione had believed she had already reached to absolute peak of humiliation and heart-ache, but apparently, that hadn't been the case. Now she had hit the proverbial bottom. Or so she thought, until Ron carried on:
"That's not what I said. What I said, " Ron was talking excitedly as if he had just realized something great and wanted to share it with her, too, "was that I don't think you are the prettiest girl there is. Even if I hadn't heard you complaining about it millions of times, I'd know that your hair is too bushy and your waist too thick and your legs too short and your eyebrows too fair for you to be a...classical beauty." Hermione sniffed again, biting her inner lip in a vain effort not to cry, and with a burst of strength that surprised both her and Ron, she pulled free of his grasp and took a swing at him, hard.
She missed, but it didn't stop her for trying again. She was truly crying now, but she didn't want to cry, she didn't want to be miserable. She would rather be angry as hell. With her fists, she pummelled the man in front of her everywhere she could reach. How could he? They were friends, weren't they? They were best friends! Even if he had all the girls he wanted and she had no one and she was ugly and a pitiful kisser and he had experience and great looks and she had been stupid and ignorant and childish and deserved everything bad that had happened, he still didn't have the right to mock her! How could he? It wasn't like Ron to be cruel, no, he was hot-tempered and could say nasty things when he was angry, but he was never deliberately cruel. Why was he now? Listing all her faults as if it was evidence why she wasn't good enough for him or any boy!
She cried and swung her arms, hitting his chest over and over again. She didn't even realize that Ron was blocking her hits. His arms would probably be bruised the next day, but he was being un-characteristically calm, as he managed to avoid most of Hermione's blows. Finally, he reached for her wrists and took a firm hold of both of them. She wriggled to get away, but it hurt too much, the way he was clenching her.
"You are hurting me."
"And that from a woman who just spent five minutes deliberately pummelling me." His voice was dry and he was slightly out of breath, but his hold of her wrists loosened a fraction. In middle of all her humiliation and anger and self-hatred, she still had time to notice he had called her woman and it was oddly exciting.
"Let me go."
"Not before you listen."
"I don't have to stay here and listen to your insults, Ron!"
"I wasn't insulting you, Hermione!"
"You could have fooled me. Actually, you did. Could you, please, now let me go? I think I have been humiliated enough for one night."
"Hermione! I wasn't insulting you! Can't you just bloody listen!" He forced her to look at him and continued, visibly fighting to stay calm: "Think, Hermione! Just bloody think! What did I just say, eh? Let's revise, shall we? You like revision. What did just Ron say? First, I told you I'd like to kiss you. Then, I told I meant what I said in the Common Room. Then, I saw you didn't believe me and thought I had been hexed, and that's why I wanted to prove you I wasn't. What I said was that I didn't think you were the prettiest girl on earth. Of course you're not! I didn't say you are ugly. I didn't say you weren't pretty! Damn it, Hermione! I said I love you for real, even if you look...yourself! You have a bushy hair, and I love it! You have short legs and I love them, too! Bloody hell, Hermione, only you can get mad when a bloke tries to confess his love for you!"
Hermione sniffed miserably, but then she smiled a little. "And only you can confess your love by listing the girl's all physical faults."
Ron blushed. "Um...sorry about that. I think you are bloody gorgeous, still."
"With my invisible eyebrows and extra pounds?"
"Well, you have a nose that's a mile too long! And millions of freckles! And funny-looking ears!" She giggled.
"Yeah. But you like my freckles. Don't you?" There was a slightest bit of hesitation in his voice and Hermione couldn't help but giggle some more.
"Yes, I like your freckles." She was looking at Ron's freckles and his ears that were again all red. He had nice cheekbones, she decided. And she actually liked long noses and big ears. And his jaw was very...manly. And he was standing very near. And he was being very warm. And he had just told her he loved her. And wasn't that the moment when the guy traditionally kissed the girl? And she was a horrible kisser and if he kissed her now, when she hadn't had time to research and find some techniques to improve her kissing, or at least a chance to brush her teeth, he would probably change his mind about her. And now he was leaning in and he had this look in his eyes that she hadn't seen before, but could very well imagine the meaning of. She tried to pull away, but Ron didn't let her.
"Oh, no, Hermione, you don't."
"But I'm really a horrible kisser, I really am!"
"So, how are you going to ever learn, if you won't practise with me?" He was teasing her, but this was serious!
"I want to be prepared. Really, Ron, there is this book about ..." She knew she sounded awfully stupid, even before Ron chuckled at her. His laugh was low and breathy and Hermione felt goose bumps on her arms. She wanted him to kiss her, she did. She wanted him to kiss her and to pull her into his embrace and to hold her close and...she just didn't want to disappoint him.
"Hermione, there's no other girl like you, there really isn't." He was still laughing, and his hoarse laughter was exciting and foreign in her ears. And then he leaned in and softly kissed the corner of her mouth. Hermione tried to swallow the saliva in her mouth and to prepare. She tried to remember all she had ever read about kissing: something about nibbling and sucking and licking and the use of tongue and lips.It was like a professor would have suddenly announced a pop-quiz on a totally unfamiliar subject!
"Stop thinking, Hermione, stop thinking," Ron whispered and kissed the other corner of her mouth. What was it with these corners? Didn't he know how to aim? Or was it some trend in kissing and she should know how to respond? What had the book said!
Then his arms were around her and she was still closer to him, all of him, his strong, warm body pressed against her...breasts...and thighs...and she felt so warm everywhere, because of him, and he was so hard and solid and muscular. Of course she had known Ron was muscular, she had seen him without shirt several times and secretly enjoyed the view, but she had never before really thought how strong Ron had to be. She felt very small and frail and it felt nice... to feel weak and in the arms of someone strong. He was breathing heavily and she could feel his heart beating fast and it was exciting and...arousing, yes, arousing, and she flushed at the thought.
He was kissing her neck, now, and the goose bumps were spreading all over her spine and arms. His lips were so warm and still a bit chopped and she could feel his stubble. How come she had never really noticed that Ron was shaving? How did wizards shave? Did they use a spell or a razor? Or a potion? Was that nice smell an aftershave? Why didn't he kiss her lips? She wanted him to kiss her lips. And...oh...to continue kissing her neck, definitely to continue that.
And then she licked her neck, but that she didn't like, it felt wet and awkward, and she stiffened and turned her head a bit. He returned to kissing and she marvelled how he had known what she liked and what she didn't like. And then he was finally kissing her mouth and she attempted to kiss him back properly. She concentrated in moving her lips in synchrony with his; she tried to make it enjoyable for him. She really tried to do her best.
After a while, he stopped, and she was miserable and relieved at the same time. Miserable, because he surely had stopped for it had been a disappointment to him, relieved, because it hadn't been so great for her, either. She had liked Ron holding her and kissing her neck much more. But he grinned at her, amused.
"Hermione, it's not a test. Just let go, will you. I mean, I'm pretty sure this won't come up in the N.E.W.T.S."
Startled, she laughed aloud. Whether she laughed at her own silliness and nervousness, or at Ron's infectious grin, she didn't know, but she laughed, and then Ron kissed her again, and she forgot to concentrate on trying her best. He took her by surprise. His soft and warm and wet mouth came on her open one and his tongue slipped in and his hands were tangled in her bushy hair and his body was pressed against her and suddenly, she was kissing back with fervour and she could feel her own heart beating in her ears and even his hair was warm, he was radiating warmth all over, and he would surely keep her warm, too, if he replaced the magical hot-water bottle in her bed and she really shouldn't be thinking such thoughts when it was only their first kiss.
The tingle was back. Actually, it seemed to have brought some friends along. Hermione welcomed them happily. She might even offer them some tea and cakes, later. Happy tingles all over. Breathless, Ron and Hermione finally pulled apart and she hugged Ron and snuggled her head under his chin. His arms were wrapped around her and he hugged her back. She sighed contentedly. Lovely tingles, lovely Ron. And he would now have a good, acceptable reason to reject all the other girls who approached him. Lovely. She would still go to find that book about kissing, but maybe this was the one area she actually believed in learning by doing.
"Hermione?" His voice still sounded like he was out of breath and it pleased the tingles.
"Can you loan me that book of yours?" For a moment she thought Ron meant the kissing-book and flushed, but then she realized he was asking for a book even more intimate.
"Hogwarts, a History?"
"Yeah." He sounded a bit embarrassed and reluctant, as if expecting her to laugh at him and say I told you so.
"I'd love to." That was all she said, and her voice was a gentle caress of a whisper.
For a moment, at two o'clock in the morning on Wednesday, 17th of February, Hermione Granger, know-it-all extraordinaire, the Head Girl of Hogwarts, felt truly, wholly, unnaturally happy.
Only for a moment, though. Later, she would start to wonder whether it had only been so good because it was her first real kiss; whether Ron and her really suited well together in the long run; whether sex could be properly learned by doing, or whether it would be very clumsy and awkward if Ron didn't know what to do, either; whether he did know what to do and how that couldn't have been just for a wish to be polite; whether he would want many children; whether she would want children at all; whether he was taking it as seriously as she was and even thinking about children; whether it was sensible to start a relationship during wartime in the first place; whether she ever wanted to be sensible again; whether Harry would approve; whether Ron's parents would approve; whether the Fat Lady would still try to cause trouble; whether Lavender and Parvati would laugh at her; whether her friendship with Ron would survive if their romance didn't…
Later, she would think about all of those issues, and more. After all, she was Hermione Granger. She wondered, pondered, reflected, analysed, processed, speculated and though over. But she would do that later. At the moment, she was concentrating on the tingles and had no time to think.
a/n: Well, all good things come to an end, and obviously all crap , too. That was the end. THE END. How did this happen? I told you, truly, sincerely and honestly, that fluff isn't really my cup of tea, and what did I just write? Pages and pages of fluff, even kissing-kind of fluff. Oops. Sorry. But please, tell me how you liked it! I would really like to know, as I'm not sure myself. Somehow, I'm even pleased with this ending, and somehow I'm insecure. I'd really like some opinions. I greatly appreciate also negative feedback.
About Ron: I actually knew some guys in high school, who just went out with all the girls that asked, even when they actually didn't want to, just because they couldn't find a way to say no. It was probably partly for it was flattering to be asked out, too, but still, I sometimes found myself feeling pretty sorry for the poor blokes. I still don't imagine Ron as horribly experienced or anything, I guess most of his dates consisted of awkward walking around and a few kisses, if the girl initiated them ;)
Many, many thanks for your reviews! They have been quite lovely! I guess I'll be writing something else, someday, so I hope I'll "meet" you again, later. I might go back to my secrets-fic, which I like quite a bit, even though it doesn't seem to interest many others ;) In the meantime, if you haven't yet read "No Means to Use the Stove", I like that fic pretty much, even if I say so myself (shame on me!). The beta'ed version can be found in Checkmated.