A Few Days Later.
The morning of the October Hogsmeade trip dawned clear and bright. It was one of those wonderful autumn days where the air is crisp and clear and the sun bright. The slightest smell of fall, like distant leaf fires, was on the breeze. It was only if you stepped out of the golden sunlight that you could feel the chill in the air, presaging the cool of the evening and the greater chill of oncoming winter.
On the trees only the most stubborn leaves still hung forlornly, their colors bright in what was likely the last, valiant display before cold winds finally pulled them down. Their fallen brothers made a bright carpet of gold and red under the students feet as they walked the short distance into town.
Hermione had decided it was cool enough that she needed a sweater, and after trying on several, had settled on a thick white one. It had embarrassed her and vastly amused her room mates when it became clear that Hermione Granger was fussing over her appearance. The girls had teased her for a while, but had also told her she looked nice.
Ron was unaware, and as far as Hermione was concerned should forever remain unaware, of her pains, but he certainly appreciated the outcome. Every time he looked at her, his stomach flipped on itself and he had to fight the urge to grin like a fool. As for him, Ron had taken time and care on his appearance also but it really hadn't made much difference. He looked pretty much the same as he always did.
They held hands as they walked, still new enough to this thing between them that they were self conscious about it. Strangely, after so many years of speaking freely and spending vast amounts of time together, they both were nervous and reluctant to speak.
Harry walked a few steps behind them, flanked by Neville and Luna. Ginny was off somewhere with Dean, so Harry was a bit desperate for company.
Luna was scowling a bit in Hermione's direction. Harry had suspected the daft girl had some vague sort of crush (being incapable of any other kind) on Ron. It seemed that she had and wasn't entirely over it. Neville was chattering away aimlessly, either not noticing, not caring about, or trying to provide a distraction from all the subtext going on around them. Harry felt a quizzical relief that he knew Neville. He would always have at least one person with whom to commiserate about his single status.
"Where shall we go first?" Hermione asked as the village came into sight.
Harry glanced at Neville who replied with a shrug. "'We'?" Harry asked. "Aren't you two going off together?"
Ron didn't speak, but Harry could tell form the way he looked away at the trees as Hermione spoke that this had been the subject of some debate. "We hadn't planned on it," Hermione said. "Shall we go to the Three Broomsticks first and have a drink?"
Harry sighed. When had it gotten so hard to get a message across to Hermione? "I was thinking of going to the quidditch shop," he said, thinking quickly. "I know you don't care for that, so why don't you go ahead and get us a table and I'll meet you. Neville, care to join me?"
"Sure, Harry," Neville said, seeming quite happy with the arrangement.
Ron had turned quickly and grinned slightly when Harry had made his suggestion and the two boys made eye contact. "So, Ron, you coming or not?" He fought to keep the smirk off his face. It was amusing to everyone who knew them how much Ron and Harry were like little boys in their enjoyment of getting around Hermione's declarations.
"No thanks," Ron said, glancing at Hermione from the corner of his eye. She didn't disappoint him. She looked quite annoyed. "I'll see you at the pub when you get there."
Hermione watched Harry and Neville go, with Luna sort of drifting along behind them, through narrowed eyes. "I was trying to make it plain," she said in an annoyed voice, "that we would make time to spend with Harry."
"He got it," Ron returned casually. "You've only said it a few hundred times. Do you think that maybe he was making it clear that he understood that we would sometimes want to be alone?"
"I suppose," she grumbled, starting to walk again.
Ron glanced over at her, a strange look in his eyes. "Do you not want to be alone with me?"
"No!" she said in surprise, taking his hand again, "Not at all, it's just... well, Harry."
"We've been over and over this," Ron said.
"I can't stop feeling like we're deserting him."
"He doesn't feel that way," Ron said.
"He doesn't say he feels that way, but..." she trailed off.
"Let's not go making it a problem till it is one," Ron said. "You're probably right, he is more upset about it then he lets on, but it won't help to try and push him on it. You know as well as I that never works with Harry."
"I suppose so," she said.
"So can we have fun today?" he asked in a mock plaintive tone.
"It is an awfully nice day to waste," Hermione smiled up at him.
Ron nodded his head and cleared his throat, looking suddenly very shy. "Yes, it is. Um... I just wanted to say that, you... well, you look very nice today."
She blushed and looked away. "Thank you. You look very handsome," she said in an oddly formal tone.
"This was a lot easier the other night," he said.
"What was easier?"
"Being all romantic. You know, in the common room?"
"I think I remember," she said in an amused voice. She grinned at him. "You did it very well then. I was quite surprised."
He chuckled. "So was I. It worked at least. I got the girl."
Hermione shook her head in exasperation. "You got the girl."
"How very caveman of you," she said acerbically. "You know, that brings up something else. When you were being all romantic, you said I was yours."
"So?" Ron asked warily.
"I most certainly am not! I do not belong to anyone. The very idea is offensive."
"You didn't seem to mind when I said it."
"I just refrained from commenting," she said loftily. "You had been so sweet otherwise, I decided to let it pass for the moment."
"But that moment has passed?" he asked.
"It has," she said.
"I'm not sweet any more?"
"Not in the least."
"I don't know what I'll do," he said. "I'll loose you to Neville. Is he sweet?"
Hermione giggled. "Very." After a pause, she asked, "Why Neville?"
"He's been taken with you for a long time. Remember? He asked you to the ball in fourth year."
"You've found me out," she said, rolling her eyes. "I'm just using you to make my Nevvie jealous."
Ron laughed out loud. "Your wasting your time. I think he's actually attracted to Harry."
Hermione slapped him on the arm but quickly took his hand again. "Ron! Be nice. Besides, you're one to make jokes, what with Luna pining after you and glaring holes through me."
"She isn't pining after me," Ron said dismissively.
"She is and you know it," Hermione objected. "She has it in for me because I refuse to accept the foolish things that get printed in her Dad's paper. Now, I've stolen her crush." It must be admitted, Hermione's tone became a little smug.
"It would never have worked between Luna and me," Ron said. "Imagine how bad things could get if I were the sane, stable one in the couple?"
"I shudder to think," Hermione said with a smile.
They could have reached the pub in the time they had been talking. Instead, they were walking aimlessly along the edge of the village, where the trees were pretty and it was quieter, and they were sort of alone. They were both silent a moment, enjoying the quiet, before Ron spoke. "I don't want to go to the pub anymore," he said.
"Neither do I," Hermione replied in a quiet voice, "But they're going to meet us there."
Ron stared at her without speaking for a long moment. "What?" she finally asked.
He sighed. "I was just wondering," he said, "if I would ever get you to myself."
Harry sat st the table in the Three Broomsticks that he, Neville and Luna had managed to get. He waited patiently for the two conspicuously empty chairs to be filled. "Do you think," Luna suddenly asked into the silence, "they will be here at all?"
Neville looked surprised and Harry quirked a grin. "They will," Harry said. "Ron might try to skive off, but Hermione won't let him."
Neville chuckled. "I bet you're right. I wonder what it's like dating Hermione?"
Luna smiled. "Like being in class all the time, I'd say. 'Ronald, do your homework', 'Ronald, we have a Prefect's meeting', 'Ronald, I have some kissing scheduled for 3:17 this afternoon, so don't be late'". Neville laughed a bit, but Harry felt offended on Hermione's behalf.
"You know," Harry said, "he goes by 'Ron'. You're the only one who calls him 'Ronald'".
"And I doubt she schedules kissing," Neville said and paused for effect before going on, "At least not at an odd time like that. You'd want to set it on the hour or half hour so as to get a nice round block of time."
"You need a round block of time for such things, do you?" Luna asked.
Neville stunned Harry by only coloring slightly and saying, "I should think a half hour is the least amount of time needed to do the job right."
Luna looked at him in surprise, "You seem to have given it a lot of thought."
"Some, but it's all theoretical. I'm looking forward to some practical testing as soon as possible."
Sheer amazement kept Harry from reacting. Neville was flirting, and seemed to be doing a halfway decent job of it. That was quickly replaced by frustration and it was all he could do not to bang his head on the table. Everyone was doing it but him.
Hermione looked at Ron out of the corner of her eye. He was pouting now, because she was insisting they do as they said they would. She didn't understand his behavior at all. From a meandering stroll while holding hands, Ron had changed to a direct stride towards the Three Broomsticks and he had pulled his hand away from her. From his expression, she judged that he was in a slow burn and would likely boil over sometime later or find something insignificant to loose his temper about.
She tried to figure out what was really bothering him. He had made that remark about wondering if he would ever have her to himself. Did he mean that as a limited remark, referring only to today or did he mean ever in the big ever way? She tried to think it through. They had only really been alone twice since everything happened. In the common room and on this walk (which had been very pleasant for a while).
Both times, she realized, she had talked about Harry and how he was being affected. She closed her eyes for a second and felt a strange rush of guilt. "Ron?" she asked softly.
"What?" he asked, his effort at control clear in his voice.
His eyebrows drew together in confusion. "What for?"
"I just realized why you're upset."
"I'm not upset," he said.
"Yes you are," she said reasonably, "and you have every right to be."
"I do?" he asked, suddenly suspicious. Being told he was right by Hermione was unusual enough to warrant caution.
She nodded. "Yes. I keep talking about Harry and worrying about how what's going on with us is going to affect him. The reason I do that is because I worry about him and the way he gets depressed and things. I don't have to worry about you. You take care of yourself, emotionally." Ron looked suddenly uncomfortable, eyes darting left and right to see if anyone were close enough to over hear. Hermione found it amusing. "So," she went on, "I assume Harry's going to need help and you aren't. I trust you to still... well, help take care of Harry and take care of me a little too. That's the way it's always been but that's taking you for granted, and that's wrong."
"What?" Ron asked.
"I assume you will keep looking after me and caring about me, no matter what," she said by way of explanation.
"I will," he said. "I still don't get it."
She began to get aggravated. "I've been acting like you will keep feeling for me when I don't show you how important you are to me. When I worry and talk about Harry so much, it's taking you for granted and I'm sorry."
"What the hell are you talking about?" he asked.
"Oh," she said, beginning to feel upset, "I've been terrible to you. I say you're my boyfriend but I'm not putting you first..."
Suddenly, Ron stepped up to her and he put his hands on her arms. "Hermione," he said deliberately, "You've gone insane."
"I have not," she said. "You were mad because..."
"I wasn't mad," he said. "Did I say I was mad?"
"But, you were," she said. "You were mad that I was worrying more about Harry then about you and that I was taking you for granted."
Ron blinked several times and his head cocked at a slight angle. Hermione suddenly felt very embarrassed. "Daft," he said. "My girlfriend is daft."
"I am not," she said and was surprised at how pouty she sounded even in her own ears.
"Are too," he said. "Look, I don't know what kind of idea you've developed. Frankly, I didn't follow what you were saying, but I am not angry with you."
Hermione's voice lowered. "But you said that about never having me to yourself and then you stopped holding my hand.
Ron shrugged. "I wanted to get to the pub and get that over with as quickly as possible so I could have you to myself all afternoon. I was a little annoyed that you wouldn't just skip it with me, but that was all."
"That's all?" she asked, suddenly mortified.
"That's all," he said. A barely restrained grin was playing around his mouth.
Hermione wanted to crawl off into a hole and die. She had clearly and dramatically over-reacted. "Oh, God," she said. "I've turned into a GIRL! A silly, girly girl! It's all your fault."
"It's all right, Hermione," he said. "I think it's cute."
"You shut your mouth this very instant."
Harry stepped into the street. He couldn't take another minute inside. Once Luna had realized what Neville was doing, she had gotten very giggly. Such encouragement made Neville keep it up. They had barely noticed when he excused himself, claiming he needed a breath of air.
He was actually very happy to see his two friends in the street, Hermione looking aggravated and Ron looking amused. The normalcy of it was like a breath of fresh air. He approached them. "You wouldn't believe what I just saw," he said.
They both turned in surprise. "What was that?" Ron asked. Hermione was still apparently too consternated to speak.
"Neville was being charming."
Ron looked slightly taken aback. "Charming to who?"
"No kidding?" Ron asked.
"Nope." Harry paused a moment and looked at Hermione, whose blush had deepened. "What's wrong with her?"
"I'm not entirely sure," Ron replied. "Apparently I'm angry at her."
"Really?" Harry asked. "What for?"
"Again, I'm not entirely sure. Someone was taking someone for granted, I think."
Hermione crossed her arms over her chest. "Just stop it," she said.
"Oh, and I stopped holding hands with her."
"Shame on you," Harry said. "Perhaps you should start again."
"Would you two please stop talking about me as if I weren't here?" Hermione asked.
"I simply don't understand girls at all," Harry mused. "It seems like an awful lot of work to try. Why do you do it?"
"No choice, mate," Ron said. "I'm not interested in dating boys." As the conversation progressed, they had automatically began moving down the street together.
"Keep this up and you're going to have to," Hermione said, "because I'm the only girl who would put up with you."
Ron took her hand again. "Not true," he said. "There's always Luna, according to you."
She regarded him through narrowed eyes. "You had better not be considering that."
"Besides," Harry said, "You'd have to get past Neville."
"I got past Neville to Hermione, didn't I?" Ron said with a sideways glance at Hermione. "I can do it again."
Hermione was getting over her embarrassment. "I think I did the getting around, Ron. I got around you being a big prat who only thinks about quidditch, getting out of homework, and food."
"Now Hermione," Harry said, "Ron thinks of other things. He proved that in the infirmary, didn't he?" Ron's face flared up like a sudden flame and Hermione looked aghast. Harry fought not to laugh.
Pulling her hand from his, Hermione slapped Ron hard on the arm. "You told him about that!" she said.
"No!" Ron protested. "He figured it out."
She turned a gimlet eye on Harry. "And you were thinking about that? Perhaps Ron is right about you and Neville."
"Later, we shall have a discussion about what she may have meant, Ron," Harry said, "but for now, I am going to take my leave of you so you can continue this in private." It looked as if Hermione were going to protest, but Harry forestalled her with an upraised hand. "I know, Hermione. you two aren't going to desert me. How often do you think I need to be told something?"
"I was going to tell you to have a nice day," she returned primly.
"I will," Harry said as he turned to walk away, "and you two do the same."
Ron turned to Hermione. "See? He's fine."
"Okay, I get it," Hermione said, still suffering the after effects of her embarrassment.
Ron began leading her down the street and around the corner towards the path back to the school. "Where are we going?" she asked.
"How do you feel about a nice walk in the woods? This likely the last really nice day before winter."
"I think that would be very nice," she said. They walked a bit in silence and when they were under the trees, having veered off the path, Hermione was surprised to find that she was regretting her sweater a little. It was warmer then anyone would have suspected. Ron was right, this was too nice a day to waste.
They walked together quietly, both seemingly lost in their own thoughts. The forest was a palette of bright yellows and reds. A light breeze stirred the leaves covering the ground and made the nearly bare branches sway. It was utterly idyllic. After some time, Ron suddenly said, "I don't think you take me for granted."
"So you were listening," Hermione replied.
"Of course I was," he said, "I always do." The words were simple but they were so direct and plainly honest, Hermione's breath caught. It was as if he were saying, "Well, of course the sun is going to rise".
"Then why did you tease me?" she asked.
He grinned. "Because that's what I do."
"It makes me mad sometimes."
His grinned widened, "That's why I do it."
To her amazement, Hermione found that she was smiling fondly at him. "I'd miss it if you stopped."
"Really?" Ron asked. She nodded. He looked around and realized they were well into the woods. It was a dry day, so he didn't hesitate in suggesting that they sit for a minute.
They settled down close to each other. "That was a mean joke Harry made about you," Hermione said.
"Which one?" Ron asked.
"The one about, well... you thinking about other things."
Ron grinned, "It only bothered me if it embarrassed you."
"No," she said, her voice becoming softer, as if she were afraid someone would hear her. "It didn't." They sat with their backs to a large rock, situated on the edge of a clearing. It was nicely warmed by the direct rays of the sun earlier in the day but now the spot was shaded. Ron relaxed more, leaning fully back. Hermione was sitting straight and half turned to face him. It struck him that their position was the same as it had been on the couch in the common room just a few nights before when they had kissed for the first time. Suddenly, he reached out and began running his fingers through her hair. She smiled a bit shyly at him. "I have awful hair," she said ruefully. He looked at her for a moment and his expression caused a pink flush to start in her cheeks. "I know. You like it."
"I do. I've liked it for a while now," he said.
A part of Hermione couldn't believe him, a very loud and assertive part of her, and that part also told her that she should be grateful he cared enough to say such things even just to be kind. She suddenly became very nervous, unable to decide what to do with herself but wanting to move. She didn't care of she moved towards him or away from him, but it seemed that staying still would drive her mad. "Ron," she whispered in a ragged voice.
"Aren't you going to kiss me?" she asked. He did.
It came as something of a surprise to both of them to find, when they came up for air the first time, that they had some how ended up several feet from their rock with Ron flat on his back and Hermione half atop him. "Good lord," he muttered, his breath tickling her face, "how did we end up over here?"
Hermione settled herself on him, her head pillowed on him and one hand moving over his chest. "I don't know," she said softly. "I know we rolled over once."
"At least," Ron said. Her head was on his chest, the back towards him. He kissed her gently, enjoying the feel and smell of her hair.
The sudden thought struck Hermione of how this would look if anyone saw them. She wondered if it would appear as wanton as it felt to her or if it would look like two kids wrestling in the fragrant leaves. Hermione decided that she didn't care how it looked. She twisted around suddenly, pushing up on her arms so that she was above him. Ron smiled up at her. She lowered herself to him, kissing him quickly with just a flick of the tip of her tongue between his lips, and pulling away. He didn't move. Looking oddly at him, she did it again. He responded, but still lay unmoving, eyes intent on her face afterward. "Why aren't you moving?" she asked.
"I'm afraid to," he said with no fear in his voice.
She dipped and kissed him more deeply. "What are you afraid of?"
"What I might do," he replied.
Hermione shuddered ever so slightly. "What might you do?"
"Terribly inappropriate things," Ron said. "Things that would make you very angry with me."
Hermione giggled and said, "Such as?"
"Should I tell you or show you?"
"Tell me and then we'll see."
Ron's face colored bright red. "I can't say such things."
"You can," Hermione murmured. "I won't be mad."
Suddenly, Ron took his hand from where it lay on the ground and rested it on her hip. He at once began moving it slowly up her body and in towards her breast. "This, for one," he said. His hand moved along her body and it felt to Hermione like it left a trail of heat. She felt almost faint and realized that she wanted him to touch her there. She wanted a lot of things she only barely understood. Clinically she knew the parts and who did what and what went where, but the knowing was very different from the feeling and the wanting. "I want to touch you." His fingers brushed the underside of her breast and he paused.
Hermione licked her lips and nodded her head quickly. His hand slipped up, cupping her. At the same time his other hand was suddenly in her hair and then behind her head, pulling her down to him and he kissed her as he caressed her.
When their lips finally parted, she smiled softly down at him and he began gently stroking just the tips of his fingers up the sides of her breast, till they closed together on her hardened nipple. He would tug lightly at it, his fingers coming off only to cover her with his hand and do it again. "That feels nice," she said in a shaky voice.
"Yeah?" he asked, his voice just as shaky.
"Very nice," she said. His other hand came up and began doing the same. "Oh..." Hermione made a little noise that Ron liked very much. "Do you like..." she paused, "touching me like that?"
"God, yes," Ron said.
"Are you..." she tentatively asked but trailed off. She swallowed, "I mean, is it... is it hard?"
"Oh, yes" Ron said. Hermione had been holding herself above him for a while, he suddenly realized, so he quickly reached for her and pulled her down to him, then he turned so they were both on their sides, facing each other. He stretched out one arms so she could pillow her head on it and with the other returned to what it had been doing before. "Are you comfortable?" he asked. Hermione nodded that she was.
"Yes, I... I just…," Hermione interrupted, speaking quite quickly.
Ron stopped stroking her breast and wrapped his arm around her. "Don't be nervous. I'm not…" he trailed off, looking for a word.
"Pushing?" she said.
"Exactly. No pushing here."
Hermione sighed. "I don't know why I asked you that, it just sort of popped out."
"No need to explain," Ron said, a grin suddenly appearing. "Although you'll understand if I maintain my private suspicions about why."
"Prat," she muttered. As if by mutual agreement, they got up and began straightening their appearances. Every few seconds, one would catch the other watching them and they would share a smile.
Ron stretched his arm over his head and grimaced slightly. "Next time we need to search for rocks first."
Hermione rubbed a sore spot in the small of her back and pulled yet another leaf out of her hair. "Either that or avoid the wilderness all together."