Chapter 8: The Talk
"Wh-- what?!?" stammered Ron. Harry kept a straight face for as long as he could, while several confused expressions crossed Ron's face in rapid succession. Finally Harry broke into a grin, and Ron relaxed and laughed nervously.
"So, Weasley… congratulations. You finally figured it out."
"Yeah. Er, thanks. Er… hey, what was that supposed to mean?"
Now it was Harry's turn to freeze up. For all he knew, Ron might still be mad about what Harry had written in the letter to Sirius. It was time for some backpedaling.
"Er… Ron, I'm sorry… What I said… I didn't mean…."
Another awkward silence followed. Neither of them seemed to know what to say.
"So, tell me," Harry finally ventured, "how did this happen? Between you and Hermione, I mean?"
"Well…." Ron's freckles were blending into the background of his reddening face. "Well, you see, when they put us in detention, it was, like, solitary confinement. So there was a lot of time to think. And so I got to thinking."
"Yeah… mainly about…." Ron looked away. "About what you said in that letter. And I realized… er, well… you were right."
Harry didn't dare say anything.
"And so, I guess… well… thanks, Harry. I owe you one."
Harry grinned, but still didn't say anything.
"So it was like, for the whole fifteen days-- well, I started by being mad at you, of course, and then I was mad at Malfoy's dad, and really at pretty much everybody. But eventually what I kept thinking about was Hermione, all the rows we've had and everything-- and all of a sudden I realized, I actually like her. As… you know, as a girl." He paused, his ears slightly pink. "Fancy that. Never thought it would come to this. I guess I figured… well, I don't know what I figured. I guess I didn't realize what it was going to be like. But it was awful. 'Cause it was like, I'd suddenly figured out that I liked her, and after the Yule Ball and Fleur and everything, if I suddenly changed my mind and decided I liked her, I wasn't sure if she was ever going to talk to me again."
Ron took a breath. His voice was a bit higher and more nervous than usual. Harry felt weird. Ron had been his best friend for four years, but they had never really had a conversation like this before.
"And then, when Dad and Dumbledore came in the middle of the night to let us out-- I guess they decided to come as soon as our fifteen days were up-- well, when I saw Hermione, it was like I really wanted to see her, but I was scared to see her too. And her face… well, she looked awful, like she'd been crying the whole fifteen days. It was worse than third year, when she was doing that mad thing with the Time-Turner. And then she looked away from me, like I was… well, I don't know. And it hit me, kind of like, 'Ron Weasley, you git, it's because of you being so stupid that her face looks like that.' I felt like I was… worse than Malfoy, really.
"And then Dumbledore sent Dad off to meet Mr. and Mrs. Granger, and then a minute later went to join him and left Fawkes with us. I'm not sure if he actually went all the way to the lobby, maybe he just wanted to get us to talk to each other. Bet he did, knowing Dumbledore. And so there I was, standing like a fool, wondering what to say. But finally I decided it was better to say something instead of nothing."
Ron took another deep breath.
"So I said, 'Hermione, I'm sorry about… about everything, you know… and if it's too late, that's okay, but what I've realized is… I… I really like you, and…', and I didn't get a chance to finish, because she comes rushing at me. For a moment I should she was going to haul off on me like she did to Malfoy that one time."
"But instead she hugged you, like that other time in third year?" Harry interrupted.
"Yeah." Ron was really blushing now. "Yeah. Only this time… well, it was scary this time too, but it was… well, it was different, and kind of better, since this time I knew what it was really about, and, well…." Ron trailed off. "I've got a girlfriend. Hermione's my girlfriend, Harry. Can you believe it?"
Ron looked embarrassed but very pleased. Harry nodded, sharing his friend's enjoyment of the moment. "Yeah. I've kind of seen this coming, you know."
"Guess I was the only one that didn't. Oh, well. I can't believe… I can't believe she actually still likes me, after… after everything."
There was another awkward silence. Harry wondered what to say next. A sly smile crossed his face.
"So… have you kissed her yet?"
"Well, that's the other thing. After Dad and Dumbledore came back with the Grangers, Dumbledore was getting the Portkey ready, and Hermione went to talk with her mum and dad for a few minutes. Now, you see, we were still holding hands when they all showed up. After she'd stopped hugging me, I guess I looked kind of stupid, and said, 'Er, what am I supposed to do now?,' and she gets all imperious and says, 'Well, Ronald Weasley, you could start by offering to hold my hand.' And it was a few seconds after that that they all walked in on us."
"So then, Dad gets to talk to me, and he says, 'Well, Ron, it looks like you and Hermione are getting along pretty well.' And of course I didn't know what to say, and then he says, 'In that case, you should know that your mother and I think Hermione is an outstanding young witch, and that we'd love to have her as a daughter-in-law someday.'"
Harry's eyes popped open. He had known since the Yule Ball that Ron and Hermione fancied each other, but to think about them that way-- well, it was just too weird. "But you're just kids," he pointed out.
"Yeah, that's what I said," Ron replied. "And then Dad says, 'Three more years and you won't be.' "
More stunned silence. Harry didn't know what to say. Fortunately, Ron continued. "Blew me out of the water," he added with a touch of the good old Ron sarcasm. It was a relief to hear that from Ron again, even if only a little bit of it.
"Harry, I'm scared," said Ron, and the sarcasm was gone again. "I mean, on one hand it's scary to think about-- about that-- but what's even scarier is-- what if we don't? I mean, you know how much we fight. You've seen more of it than anybody. And what if we break up? I don't-- I don't know if I could handle that. It's like I'll be scared to say anything, 'cause I never know what's going to set her off, and then things'll get out of hand, and then… what if I lose her?"
This time the silence was a thoughtful one. It seemed like there ought to be something Harry could say on this one. Then it occurred to him. "I think--"
"I think… I think you should just be the old Ron Weasley, and see what happens."
"But you know how that always makes us fight. Like cats and dogs, we are. Harry, I've spent fifteen days hating myself for everything I've ever said to Hermione, and you're telling me to go back to that?"
"But isn't that what she likes about you?"
Ron looked puzzled. Harry continued.
"What I'm thinking is, if you start trying to be all polite and Hufflepuffy and everything, maybe you won't fight as much, but it'll take away everything that she liked you for in the first place. And-- well, then it won't be so much fun for me either."
Ron appeared to consider the idea. "Yeah… well, yeah, maybe."
"So anyway, you were saying something about what your Dad was telling you?"
"Oh, yeah. Well, after he drops that one on me, then he says to remember that we don't have to take the relationship any farther than we're both comfortable with, like kissing or… anything, and that I shouldn't pressure her into anything or let her pressure me into anything either. He said that if we were still together we could get engaged after sixth year and then get married after we graduate, and that if we took the relationship too fast at first we might get bored with each other, so if we really liked each other and wanted to stay together we should probably take things nice and slow."
Harry had never thought about things that way. "I wonder if that's true."
"I dunno. Worked for him, though, didn't it? I mean, after all, there's seven of us."
Harry and Ron both laughed softly at the idea. Somehow the thought of Arthur and Molly Weasley as romantic lovers seemed a bit ridiculous, but the existence of Ron and his six siblings suggested that something must have happened. It was just weird to think of adults like Mr. and Mrs. Weasley that way.
"And so," Ron continued, "I don't know. We haven't really gotten to talk about, you know, serious stuff like that. Maybe we'll start kissing a year from now, so then it would be another year till we can get engaged. Or maybe the first one will be at the Yule Ball. That'd be funny, wouldn't it? It's just… well, it seems like it would be really nice, but I don't know if I'm ready for it just yet." He paused. "Listen to me. I'm talking like I'm grown up. Never would have thought it. I guess this'll do strange things to you."
Ron paused again.
"But I like it anyway. I really like it." Something gleamed in Ron's eyes. "I recommend it. You know, Potter, we've got to find somebody for you. I guess it's really all up with Cho?"
Harry didn't like this turn of the discussion.
"Well… you heard the letter. I think pretty much every girl in the school hates me know. Well, I don't know if Cho hates me, but wasn't that her crying and running for the door when Mr. Malfoy read that? Anyway, I don't fancy her anymore. Really. Seriously. I'm sure of it," he added as Ron looked at him doubtfully.
"Well, okay, if so say so." Ron pondered a moment. "Parvati, then, maybe? She did go to the Ball with you, didn't she?"
"Ha. Even if I did like her that way, after I mentioned her in the letter, can you imagine what she'll be like next time I see her?"
"Like she's O.D.'d on Pepperup Potion?" Ron suggested with a half-smirk.
"Yeah, probably, " Harry agreed. "So anyway, I imagine there's not too many girls that'll be lining up for me now. Good thing I won't be a Triwizard Champion and have to take somebody to the Ball this year, I'd be stuck with Moaning Myrtle. And don't say it," he added before Ron could tease him yet again about having a ghost with a crush on him.
"Harrrry and Myrrrrrtle," cooed Ron, while Harry screwed up his face in annoyance and waited for Ron to get done laughing. "Just stay away from my sister, okay?" Ron added.
For some reason, Harry's mind froze. Not this! Why now? What's Ron going to think? Finally he managed to stammer out, "Er… no, not really, don't think you've got anything to worry about. She said after the letter she was over it."
Ron looked at Harry very strangely. Just then Ginny's voice came rising through the floor, saying, "Well, come on, Hermione, how else do you expect me to feel? You heard what he wrote, and now everybody knows about it! Why do boys…" Her voice trailed off into indistinguishability again. Ron and Harry shared a moment of silent laughter.
"And besides," Harry added, "it's like I said in the letter, she's my best friend's sister. I could never like her that way, it would be just too weird." Why is this not sounding convincing? What's happening?
Suddenly a rather offended look crossed Ron's face. "Hey, wait a minute… you're saying my sister's not good enough for you?"
Harry knotted his eyebrows. Would Ron never be happy with him? "Wait a minute… first you don't want me to like her, but now you're mad if I say I don't like her? Tell me what you want, okay?"
Ron thought for a moment, tilting his head left and right in an apparent consideration of the alternatives. "I… I don't know, Harry," he finally said. "What I want is… well, it's like… it's like there's this whole new kind of happiness that I've never known about. And of course I want you to be happy, Harry, you're my friend. And Ginny… well, I want her to be happy too. And so… well…" Ron was obviously thinking hard. "I guess if you'd be happy together, I'd be happy with that." He shrugged. "I can't believe I just said that."
Harry couldn't believe it either. This discussion was getting less and less comfortable, and he felt like he didn't quite understand why.
Mercifully, Mrs. Weasley's voice came piercing through the household. "BREAKFAST!!!"
"But it's only six-thirty," said Harry, looking at the clock on the wall as the image of Chudley Cannons Seeker Sammy Banks on Ron's wallpaper made a steep dive toward the floor after the Snitch.
"Probably she wants the family to get to eat together before all the guests join in," Ron explained. "Don't worry, Harry, you're considered family here."
Something about what Ron had just said struck both of them, and they looked away from each other. "Well, let's go downstairs, then," said Ron for lack of anything better to say.
They both headed down to the dining room, Harry in the lead. Much to his surprise, he was feeling hungry again. He hurried down the stairs, until suddenly a door opened outward into his path and sent him sprawling. As he got up, he noticed that he had hit the door hard enough to knock the other person down too. And that other person was Ginny Weasley.
Harry and Ginny stared at each other. Ginny was turning bright red, and Harry could feel himself doing the same. Then they both got to their feet and helped each other up. Ron and Hermione seemed to be casting an amused glance at each other. At first Harry found it annoying. But then he saw the humor of it, and allowed himself an embarrassed grin. And so he turned and continued down the staircase. He was looking forward to breakfast. Breakfast with the Weasley family.
A/N: Okay, this really is the end! Hope you enjoyed it! Thanks to Zsenya for sticking with me in the beta-reading department, and also to the many kind reviewers both at sugarquill.net and fanfiction.net. (And, of course, to J.K. Rowling and Scholastic Books for letting us write stories about their characters! …which I hope I haven't trashed as badly as the marketing division of Warner Bros. has…)
About sequels: sorry, folks, but don't hold your breath. I've got a busy Fall ahead of me, and can't really think about taking on another project like this until at least January, if ever. I've enjoyed this story, but the labor of writing this has been a rather heavy thing to have hanging over my head for seven months, and I'll be glad to have one less thing to feel like I ought to work on. So… maybe someday, but not soon.
Best wishes to you all, and thanks again for reading my story!