A/N: I want to first apologize for taking so long on this chapter! RL, laziness, and a lot of writer's block has been preventing me from setting aside time to put the energy I wanted into this chapter, but I've finally finished and I'm really happy with it. Thank you all for taking the time to review, even if it was only to guess the names of the movies (The Fifth Element and Anna Karenina).
Also, thank you very
much to kjcp for beta-reading this for me! It would have had
quite a few distracting errors and awkward sentences if she hadn't
been kind enough to do me that favor!
Now you may move on from my rambling to the final chapter. I wanted to mention that the sequence of events mentioned in this movie are all accurate, because I'm sure you figured out by now that I'm a glutton for research. (And no points if you guess the name of it ) Enjoy!
The Muggle Cinnamon
Chapter Three: A Video
The walk back to Hermione's house started simply enough, with both Ron and Hermione still discussing the film. When Ron had commented on the grotesque death of the villain for the third time, however, they fell into silence and the magic of the cinema faded away, leaving Ron in much the same position he had been in earlier: self-conscious and confused.
Night had descended while they were indoors. The cafés were quieter, the outdoor tables empty. Ron knew he was at the end of his evening, and wild flights of fancy made him almost ask if Hermione knew of something else for the two of them to do. He was thinking unrealistically, spurred by the ambiguous act of touching elbows because they had to share an armrest. He had to get back to his well-maintained blocking of any romantic thoughts about Hermione.
But he couldn't help glancing at her hand, which swung gracefully at her side, and wondering what she would do if he clasped it.
The thought didn't leave him as they silently walked back across the white-lined street into the rows of houses. The thick summer air felt lazy and serene, belying the fact that the hidden world around these Muggles was on the brink of war. Indeed, Ron couldn't even find the strength to worry about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named when he was strolling through Hermione's neighborhood on a Friday night, analyzing the sport of hand-holding.
It couldn't be much different than touching elbows, he thought. It was just a bit lower down the arm, really. Of course, there wouldn't be the excuse of needing to share the armrest, so that posed a problem. Perhaps if he avoided eye contact he wouldn't have to say anything about it at all, he could just keep ambling along as if nothing was amiss. Though if she asked him what he thought he was doing, he would be done for. He could tell her that his hand was cold... except that it was quite warm out and he did have pockets in his trousers. Maybe he could say he saw a spider and got scared. That didn't do much for a bloke's ego, though.
In the end, his inner dialogue went on too long. Just as he decided to get in one solid hand-holding before his night was over, Hermione was steering him up the pathway to her house. Ron shrugged at the lost opportunity and waited for her to unlock the door and let them inside.
"Reckon I should head home now," he said in a hopefully casual manner, trying to veil his yearning to stay with her. His voice sounded too loud in the echoing foyer, and he realized just how quiet their walk home had been.
Hermione met his gaze for a moment before breaking eye contact to set her purse and cardigan on the small entryway table. "Do you have to go right away?" Her words were rushed, but she looked back up at him pleadingly. "If your mum wants you home at a certain time, that's fine, but it would be lovely if you could stay for a bit. I don't particularly like being alone in the house and I'm sure I could find something for us to do."
Ron felt a pang of... something, and he found himself fighting back a grin. "Sure, Hermione, I'll stay."
At his words, she smiled back in such a genuine way, lips rosy and eyes dancing, that Ron couldn't help observing her as beautiful, and it was an added perk that she looked as excited as he felt.
"I'm so glad!"
Ron scratched his head awkwardly, unnerved by her jubilance. "So, er, what is it you want to do?" he said, peering around as if expecting an activity to suddenly jump out of the shadows. He couldn't imagine what sorts of things Muggles did for entertainment. Without Wizard Chess and Quidditch, really what could be entertaining?
Hermione apparently shared his train of thought. "I'm afraid there isn't much to do at my house. Aside from reading, the only things we do for fun are play Parcheesi and watch films in the sitting room."
Ron goggled at her. "You have one of those screens in your house? Why didn't we just stay here?"
"No, Ron," said Hermione in her know-it-all tone. It was amazing how quickly her manner could change. "We have a television and a machine that plays videos, which are-"
Hermione glared at his interruption. "Yes, so one can watch older films on a much smaller screen in one's house. Televisions can also be used to watch-"
"I know what tellies are," Ron interrupted again. "So what videos do you have, then?"
"You really want to watch another film?" She sounded surprised but not displeased.
"It's better than reading or playing with cheese."
"Cheese? Wherever did you get that idea?"
"You just said you and your parents like to read or play with cheese," Ron answered slowly and deliberately, as though he was speaking to a child.
For the second time that evening, Hermione giggled uncontrollably.
Ron watched, perplexed. "You're the one who said it! Don't take this the wrong way or anything, Hermione, but I'm beginning to think Muggles are all barking."
Hermione shook her head through her giggles. "Parcheesi! It's a board game, like chess, only the pieces are inanimate and there's much less strategy involved."
"That's because you can't use strategy when you're playing with cheese!"
"No, no, Parcheesi is an Indian word meaning 'twenty five,' and there is no cheese involved, just game pieces and a board."
"Well, cheese or no cheese, it sounds barmy," said Ron, frowning at his countless blunders. "What videos have you got? Are there any with fighting?"
Hermione smiled with less mirth and more sincerity. "I'm not entirely sure, but I rather doubt it. Let's have a look."
She grabbed his hand and began leading him from the foyer back past the lounge. Ron wanted to laugh at how easily she had made the contact, when he had spent almost the entire walk home worrying about her reaction to something so minor and seemingly normal. His hand was a bit clammy, and the haphazard way she had seized it made the hold uneven, but Ron felt it was great anyway.
The foyer narrowed into a hallway beyond the staircase, branching off toward the kitchen on one side. Now they were walking past that, down a hall decorated with photographs of Hermione at various ages. Ron noticed that she looked quite the same as a child, only with even larger hair and eyes and much smaller baby teeth. He decided she had been adorable, and he was a little disappointed when he was led into a side room, away from the captivating face in the stationary Muggle pictures.
Hermione let go of Ron's hand to turn on a lamp in what turned out to be a small, cozy sitting room, decorated in warm burgundy and dark wood. It reminded Ron of a miniature version of the Gryffindor common room, complete with a fireplace and singed hearthrug. The beige settee looked worn and comfortable, and it faced a television that was set into a shelf that was otherwise filled with books and rectangular boxes. These boxes appeared to be the videos Hermione spoke of, because she stopped in front of them and skimmed her finger along their spines as she scanned the titles.
"We don't have any with much fighting. My parents aren't too keen on violence or indecency in the entertainment industry, I daresay."
Ron had no idea what she was talking about, but he instinctively responded with a "yeah" while he read the titles. A familiar word in one of them attracted his attention, and he pointed it out. "What's this about a wizard?"
Hermione plucked the video from the shelf. "Oh, The Wizard of Oz!" She looked quite elated. "I think this is an excellent choice, actually. It's terribly famous, a classic. I loved the music as a child."
"Music?" said Ron doubtfully.
"Yes, there was often singing in films made during the earlier years. It's not awful," she assured at his wary look. "You'll probably find it very amusing."
Taking the box from Hermione's hands, Ron examined the picture on the front. The girl and her dog didn't look too interesting, but the woman with green skin might be a hag, and there looked to be some goblins, even if no goblin would ever be caught dead in those clothes.
"All right, this one looks fine," Ron said in noncommittal acceptance. He handed Hermione the video, turned, and walked around the coffee table to sit on the two-seat settee, waiting for Hermione to start the show for them.
After she fiddled with the television and some contraptions he couldn't conceive to guess the name or use of, she pivoted to face him. "Would you like to get some snacks before we watch?"
Ron's stomach twisted at the thought of food – he'd barely eaten anything that day - and then grumbled loudly enough for Hermione to hear. "Sure," he said with a sheepish smile.
Hermione tutted and grabbed his hand again, this time to pull him from the settee and lead him back through the hallway to the kitchen, which seemed to glow in yellowness now that Hermione had to turn the overhead lights on to see by. Their hands remained distractedly locked together as they stood there.
"I'm not sure what sort of things we might have that you would like. My parents aren't much for cooking, and our snacks are all sugar-free."
"Er, I s'pose whatever you want," said Ron, not knowing what Muggles kept in their houses whether they were dentists or candy makers.
"We could have more popcorn," Hermione suggested.
"You have one of those Muggle machines?" Ron asked in awe. He quickly looked around the room, not detecting anything remarkable except Crookshanks sleeping on one of the kitchen chairs. "Where is it?"
He was answered with tutting yet another time. "No, we have some pre-made." She released his hand so she could walk over to a cupboard and pull down a clear plastic bag full of popcorn. "It's not as good as at the cinema, but it will do. Now, what would you like to drink?"
Ron turned, watching her walk to a tall cupboard with a heavy white door. Light poured from the inside when she opened it.
"Milk? Water? We don't have juice, and I told you before that my parents are opposed to fizzy drinks."
A thought struck Ron at her words, and he reached up to rub his teeth with his forefinger. He had forgotten what she had said about dissolving until that moment. "I don't know, Hermione," he said anxiously. "Maybe I should go home."
Hermione let the cupboard door swing closed. "But why? You said you wanted to stay. It's barely nine o'clock!"
"I know, but I forgot about my teeth. I think they're starting to melt!"
"It's not funny!" He was getting frantic. "They feel weird!"
Ron started digging in his pocket for his wand, so he could Apparate home, but Hermione's words slowed his movements.
"I promise your teeth won't dissolve in the next two hours."
"Here, come with me."
Hermione set the bag of popcorn on the worktop and led Ron from the room. This time, instead of pulling him, she placed her hand on the middle of his back and pushed him into the one room off the hallway that he hadn't yet seen. It was a bathroom.
Ron stood to the side so Hermione could bend down and rummage through the storage cupboard under the washbasin. She arose holding one red and one orange toothbrush. The latter was proffered to him.
"There, your favorite color," Hermione informed him, and then she opened the mirror to reveal another storage space, from which she extracted a white tube. It turned out to be toothpaste, and she squeezed some onto each brush.
"Erm," began Ron, nonplussed, "whose toothbrush is this?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Ron, what do my parents do for a living?"
"Completely mad things like drill holes in teeth?"
"No," she sighed, "they care for Muggles' teeth."
"So this is one of their patient's toothbrushes?" He held the offending object a bit farther from his face and cringed at it. "That's pretty disgusting, Hermione!"
"Ron! My parents give out perfectly new and clean toothbrushes to their patients, and they also bring them home in case we have guests, such as you, who need them."
Hermione rolled her eyes again, a bit unnecessary in Ron's opinion, and began to brush. Ron followed suit. Aside from the fact that his toothbrush at home had self-moving bristles and his toothpaste was Fizzing Whizbee flavored, he concluded that oral hygiene was the same for both Muggles and wizards.
They mutely scrubbed circles across their molars, Ron trying to dribble less toothpaste down his chin than he typically would. It felt strange to be standing in a bathroom with Hermione, though, at least without Harry and the Polyjuice Potion as company, but Hermione didn't stay long. She raised one finger in an indication for Ron to wait and then left, still busily brushing. By the time she returned, Ron had already spit out his toothpaste and gargled under the tap. Hermione did the same, daintily drying her mouth on a towel when she was done. Ron had wiped his on his sleeve, and now he regretted it, because he knew his mum would flay him alive when she saw the whitish residue of the paste on his nice shirt.
"Ready?" Hermione asked.
"Yeah, I feel loads better," Ron said as they set the toothbrushes on the washbasin ledge and walked back to the sitting room. He was going to inquire about where she had gone off to while they'd brushed their teeth, but he saw the bag of popcorn and two water glasses on the coffee table and figured out that she had been retrieving them from the kitchen.
Ron sat back in his seat and waited for Hermione to fiddle with the Muggle contraptions again. He idly wondered how close she would sit to him; the settee was small, but not so small she couldn't sit farther away from him than she had at the cinema. Ron scooted subtly to his left - closer to the middle - to aid in his plan to continue where they had left off earlier. There was no armrest to facilitate laying his elbow next to hers, but hopefully they could somehow fall back into that exhilarating world of unfamiliar closeness. Or perhaps he had imagined it all and for Hermione it hadn't earned a passing consideration.
Thankfully, Hermione sat near the middle of the settee as well, her legs a mere three inches from Ron's. He and Hermione might not be touching, but they were closer than they had been at the cinema.
"It should start any moment now," Hermione said, indicating toward the screen, and Ron realized that he had been staring at her.
"Oh, er, okay." Embarrassed at being caught staring, he tried to segue into picking up his water to take a drink. It could have been a smooth transition if he hadn't inhaled at the same time and choked.
Hermione patted Ron's back several times while he coughed. "Here," she said, pushing his glass at him, "sip some."
Ron did as he was told, his coughs subsiding, and then set his glass back on the table. No, smooth definitely wasn't the word for it. At least this time the pink on his face could be passed off as a side effect of choking.
In the next second, thunderous music and roaring filled the room and Ron nearly jumped out of his seat. "Bloody hell!"
"Oh dear," Hermione exclaimed. "It's a bit loud. I'm sorry."
Ron looked up at the television and saw that there was a picture of a lion on the screen. "It just startled me, is all," he mumbled. He wondered if his night could get any more humiliating.
"No, I'll fix it." Hermione leaned forward and picked up one of the smaller black gadgets on the coffee table, which she toyed with until the volume was reduced. When she resettled in her seat, the film began.
It seemed barmy to Ron straight off.
"There's no color, Hermione."
"Yes, I know. All films used to be black and white."
"The Muggle world was black and white?"
"No, the films were. The world was the same."
"Then why is there no color?"
"Maybe there will be," she said cryptically.
"What do you mean, maybe there will be? I thought you'd seen this loads of times."
"Just watch the film! You're missing it!"
"There's not much to miss, is there?" Ron retorted. "All I can see are chickens, and I can see them anytime."
"Oh, be quiet!"
Despite the banter, he was savoring the proximity to Hermione. Whenever she leaned forward to grab her water, he smelled the soft fragrance of her hair. And the popcorn, which they had rested between them to share, offered a chance to bump into her hand, clumsy as it made him appear.
The film, however, was the source of quite a few misgivings. There had yet to be any aliens or fighting. They were still watching a black and white scene on an old farm, with a song about rainbows, no less! The crux of the plot seemed to rest on the wellbeing of a dog so small that one of Fang's paws would dwarf it. Ron mostly kept his mouth shut, telling himself that it was a compromise for getting to pay more attention to his now solid plan to increase the indefinable level of intimacy between him and Hermione, but he couldn't restrain himself forever.
"Hermione, I get enough of Trelawney's rubbish at school without having to sit through it here!"
"What?" Hermione removed her hand from the popcorn bag and turned to face him.
"Is this whole film about lemon drops and angry neighbors and fraudulent fortune tellers?"
"Would I make you watch something like that?" Hermione asked in a scandalized tone.
Ron glared at her.
"Well, I'll have you know that this film is about none of those things. If you would just be patient, I'm sure you'd be pleasantly surprised – oh, look! There's a terrible tornado now. That's got to be worth something, right?"
Interested in spite of himself, Ron admired the cyclone on the screen and sat back to watch. He did remember to give Hermione a scowl for good measure, though. The storm didn't last long enough for his taste, but the girl and the house flew around in the air, which wasn't quite as thrilling as the flying cars of the other film but made this one a bit more tolerable.
"Hey, it's in color now!" he said when the girl exited the house into a freakishly vibrant town.
"I told you there may be color."
"Yeah, well," said Ron, not about to let Hermione have the best of it, "it's still barmy."
Several minutes later, when high-pitched midgets were singing and dancing all over the place, Ron was reduced to hearty laughter. He went so far as to hunch over his knees and clutch his sides to stop a stitch from forming, he was laughing so hard.
"You have got to be taking the mickey, Hermione! You can't possibly like this!" he said when he could sit upright again.
Hermione crossed her arms and huffed, "I liked it very much when I was a child and I consider it a classic, even if some people are too thick to understand it."
"Understand it? It's a bunch of Flitwick's ugly cousins in wigs, dressed up worse than Lockhart on Halloween! What is there to understand?"
Instead of responding to his inflammatory question, Hermione surged forward and stabbed at a button on her Muggle device with her finger. The television went black and the room was enveloped in silence.
"Fine," she said, not in the furious tone he had expected; to Ron's chagrin, she sounded as though she was on the verge of tears. "If it's that bad, I'll end your suffering and you can Apparate home. Go on!"
Ron immediately felt a knot in the pit of his stomach that would dwarf any stitch. He hadn't meant to cut his night short; he'd just been poking fun as he normally did. He'd anticipated lectures and biting comments, but what he was faced with was a Hermione who was visibly blinking back tears of anger and quite evident hurt.
"That's not what I m-"
Hermione plowed right over him. "I'm sorry to have spoiled your evening. Please remember to thank your mum for the gardenias." She stood up. "I'll see you at Grimmauld Place with Harry."
"Hermione, sit down!" Ron surprised himself with the forcefulness of his words and the effect they had on Hermione, who sank back down onto the settee. "I've had a really good time tonight." She started to protest, but he spoke over her. "I have. Even though I'll be able to see you in a few weeks, it's been nice to spend time together in a place that's not so dreary." He took a deep breath. "I've missed you. And Harry," he added hastily, deciding that his newfound courage for candor only stretched so far. "I wish he could have been here too, but, well…. Anyway, I'd like to stay and finish the film."
Hermione had looked him in the eyes the whole time, her increasing blush giving him the ability to speak his mind in a way he wasn't at all accustomed to. Now she looked down at her lap.
"But you hate the film."
Honestly, she wasn't far from the truth, but at that point, Ron would have sat through a film about Professor Binns's daily routine to keep the evening going. He had a bizarre inkling that there was something stirring between them, something he had to pin down or else it would be sucked beneath the surface again. Two years of suppressed romantic feelings were wreaking their revenge.
"It's not that I hate it, it's just that it's – er – odd. You have to admit, the rainbow goblins are funny."
Hermione didn't look up, but Ron caught a glimpse of a smile. "Munchkins. And they are a bit funny."
"Right, and the singing's not my cup of tea. But I reckon it would be all right to travel around in a bubble like that northern witch. I dunno if there's a charm for that, but I bet you could find it in a book or work out how to do it yourself." She shook her head modestly at his compliment. "And Fred and George would pay ten Galleons to know what that witch from the west got into that turned her skin green." That earned a chortle, even though Ron knew that Hermione took a stance not unlike his mum's on Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.
"So can we finish watching now? I won't say anything else bad about it."
"Don't make promises you can't keep."
It took Ron a second to understand she was being sarcastic. "Okay, I'll try really hard, then."
Hermione sighed. "Fair enough."
She leaned forward again to restart the film and then settled back in to watch, noticeably closer to Ron. He didn't mind.
After the uproar he'd caused, Ron worked diligently to keep his mouth shut. The amount of singing was downright ludicrous, and the plot wasn't improving, but he interjected mild praise whenever he could, hoping to soothe Hermione.
"It would be wicked to have a talking scarecrow. Dad hates putting Anti-Roosting Charms around the fields."
Hermione smiled at that, although she didn't turn her head from the television.
He commented on the look of the green city as well. "I think Muggles should do that. Grey buildings are a bit boring."
"It would be pretty, wouldn't it?" Hermione mused, this time turning to face him so he received the full warmth of her smile.
Several minutes later, something entirely unexpected happened. Ron was uninterestedly watching the characters collect apples from the ground when Hermione suddenly grabbed his upper arm with both hands and buried her face between it and the settee.
Ron was completely shocked. For one thing, he had no idea what had evoked this strange behavior, and for another, it was blatantly and abruptly more significant than touching elbows.
"Is it over yet?" Hermione asked, her voice muffled by the fabric of Ron's shirt.
Ron looked down at the top of her head, his mind buzzing all over the place and refusing to settle on any one thought. "Erm, huh?"
"Is it over yet?"
"But… I thought you liked this film?"
Trees? Ron scanned the room dumbly for trees. He spotted some at last, on the screen. Trees, right. They were speaking and throwing apples at the girl. "Erm…."
Hermione's grip on his arm tightened. "Are the trees gone yet?"
"Er – no?"
"I was scared of them as a child!" Hermione said. "Tell me when they're gone!"
The pieces finally clicked in Ron's mind. Hermione was clutching his arm and pressing her face into it because the trees frightened her. He frowned. Compared to the Forbidden Forest, trees throwing fruit were friendly. Then he realized that he couldn't see them anymore. "They're gone," he said, but when Hermione relinquished her place against him, he wished he hadn't.
"Why?" he asked, half paying attention to a singing suit of armor with a very pathetic battle axe.
"Why what?" Hermione said, a bit too primly to be believable. Ron looked at her and saw that her cheeks were very rosy and she was unnecessarily flattening her skirt, a sure sign of avoidance when it came to Hermione.
"Why were you so scared of them?" He was genuinely interested. Hermione was never apt to show fear, especially not when it was irrational, as this surely was.
"No particular reason. They just alarmed me is all."
"Well then why are you still scared of them?" Ron didn't particularly mind the fear, or rather the results of it, but he was curious.
Brushing her hair behind her ears, Hermione glanced at him and said, "A leftover reaction, I reckon. Bit silly, isn't it?"
Ron smiled and tilted the popcorn bag toward her in offering. "No," he said, thinking of his own fear of spiders and the event that fear stemmed from, "I get it."
Hermione returned the smile and took a few kernels from the bag before they both resumed watching.
Ron hoped the next scenes would have more scary parts, as he really had enjoyed having Hermione up against him, but unfortunately all he was given was a lion weird-looking and cowardly enough to insult Godric Gryffindor and some flowers that reminded him of the Dozing Daisies from sixth year Herbology. There were some worthwhile things, though.
"Her broomstick's slower than my old Shooting Star," he said at one point.
"I'm afraid Muggles don't know much about the varieties of broomsticks, although I think hers seems to suit her purpose."
"If her purpose is to race butterflies," Ron snorted. "It is cool how she can write words in smoke. I wonder if they sell anything like that at Quality Quidditch Supply?"
And later, when the wizard finally entered the picture, Ron said he would definitely be in Slytherin and Hermione laughed.
Ron was beginning to fret that it was the end of the film, signifying his lack of progress with Hermione and his cue to go home. But he was wrong. The wizard did something fantastic; he sent the girl and her companions on a quest to steal the old ugly witch's broom. Not only would Ron get to continue his time with Hermione, it sounded like the chances were good there would be another section of the film that would frighten Hermione into seeking his protection.
The moment arrived soon, and Ron was prepared for it. Some ridiculous flying monkeys came to attack, and Hermoine's face was right back into his arm. This time she squeezed harder and made no noise. Ron patted the top of her hair a couple times, as it seemed to be the only thing he could think to do. He wanted to say something reassuring, even though he knew Hermione wasn't deeply terrified of some monkeys that had spooked her as a child. He finally decided on saying, "They remind me of some people we know, really."
"Who's that? Hermione asked, her lips moving against his sleeve and her breath warming his skin.
"The Inquisitorial Squad."
Hermione lifted her head to look at the television. Ron was regretful that his comment had lost him her nearness until she giggled and laid her cheek back on his shoulder to watch.
"That makes sense," she said, "because the wicked witch could be Snape's sister and Umbridge's best friend."
Ron's eyebrows shot up. He'd heard her insult Umbridge worse than that on many occasions, but she usually defended Snape emphatically. When it sank in, he began to laugh with her, sliding down in his seat while he did, so that his head was more level with hers. Some of her bushy hair tickled his chin, not that Ron minded.
Hermione didn't leave when the monkeys were gone. In fact, the only move she made was pulling her legs up beside her on the settee, causing her to lean more heavily into him. Afraid that any reaction would trigger her to leave his side, Ron stayed stock still.
After ten minutes of emulating a statue, however, Ron badly wanted to move, for several reasons. The film hadn't grown any more enjoyable in plot – though the dog's escape from the evil witch was somewhat impressive – and he was getting restless, and Hermione had spent the time, not still, but periodically shifting against his side. If Ron had to guess, he would say she was getting closer and closer. He wanted to respond in kind.
Waiting for the right moment, Ron casually reached over and tapped Hermione's bare knee with his knuckle. "That trick with the guards reminds me of when Harry and I went 'round as Crabbe and Goyle."
"Yes, and I went around as Millicent Bulstrode's cat," Hermione said. Even though she sounded bitter, her leg plainly nudged his hand, which he had left nearby after his tapping. Now her knee and his little finger were just barely touching.
The next part of the film showed the girl and her friends getting trapped by the witch. Ron thought it might be something that would have scared Hermione as a child, so he repositioned his hand to rest completely on the cool skin of her knee, attempting to comfort her. He realized afterward that she hadn't dug her face into his arm in fear as she had done previously, but she did rearrange her grip on his arm so it was firmer and fuller. His move had been noted and countered, and now it was his turn again, or at least he told himself that was the case.
It felt a bit like playing chess; he was strategizing his next move and trying to predict his opponent's. Except that he didn't want to defeat Hermione and chess usually didn't make him nervous. And when he played, he always knew that his opponent was playing the game with him. Ron changed his mind – it wasn't like chess at all.
Even so, he continued with his plan. He began lightly stroking his thumb over the top of Hermione's knee, at the same time making a comment about the film. "It doesn't look as if they'll get away," he said mildly, his focus on Hermione.
He was delighted when Hermione returned the gesture, her fingers playing on his arm. "It does seem rather hopeless. You'll just have to wait and see."
Ron had no intention of paying attention to the film; he wanted to do something bolder concerning Hermione - perhaps reposition his arm entirely and put it around her shoulders like that smarmy man at the cinema.
He was about to do so when the accursed film distracted him too much to ignore.
"Wait, you mean all they would have had to do the whole time was toss some water at her?" he asked, outraged, watching the evil witch melt into an unsatisfactory puddle.
"Well, yes, but-"
"She could have poured a glass of water on her and been done with it as soon as she arrived!"
"They didn't know that," Hermione protested, her ministrations on his arm stopping, her grip slackening.
"Whoever heard of a witch that couldn't get wet anyway? How does she bathe? Can she drink anything?" Instead of stroking her knee now, he was thrumming his fingers on it angrily.
"That's not really the point of the film, Ronald."
"I don't think there is a point," Ron muttered.
The instant he said it, Hermione let go of his arm, though her cheek remained flush with it.
Ron inwardly panicked, worried that he had taken a huge leap backward by getting so incensed about the ruddy film. He even said, "Sorry," in what he thought was a sincere way, eager to regain his footing with her, but Hermione's hands stayed motionless.
Desperately, Ron continued softly skimming his thumb across her skin, hoping she would respond. He sat all through the return to the wizard and the revealing of him as a charlatan in this fashion, with no reaction from Hermione.
By the time the wizard had flown off in a balloon and the girl had used some red shoes (obviously some sort of Portkey) to get home, Ron had ceased his efforts and left his hand still. The film was black and white again, and he knew it was ending. Her companions from the world of color turned out to be the farmhands, and the girl had apparently just suffered a blow to the head and a dream.
"That makes more sense now," Ron said as normally as he could to Hermione, though she didn't answer. He hated it when she refused to speak to him, even more so when he didn't think he'd done anything too out of line.
The screen went black and the room went dim and Ron knew his little fantasy evening was over at last, ending in a much different way than he had wished for. He'd missed his chance for whatever it was could have happened, if in fact he hadn't been deluding himself the whole time. Taking a deep breath, he readied himself to stand up and leave this strange, tumultuous night behind him.
But Hermione wasn't moving.
Ron looked back up at the television, confirming that there wasn't more to the film, then down at Hermione. Though her hands were settled squarely on her lap, she still leaned into him. He wondered if she'd fallen asleep, but he couldn't angle his head far enough forward to see her face.
"Hermione?" he said quietly, exerting a bit of pressure on her leg.
"Oh. Just wondering if you were awake."
Hermione sighed. "Sorry, I guess I'm just too tired to move."
She began to stir at his side, but Ron said, "It's okay," and she resettled. He was just happy that she hadn't sounded cross with him. Maybe she had nodded off at the end of the film, and that was why she hadn't responded. "I'm a bit tired to move, myself," he lied.
A minute of silence passed, in which Ron silently debated with himself about what to say or do. Finally, he resumed his feather-light stroking of her knee. With her lying on his arm as she was, there wasn't much else he could do with his hand.
This time, Hermione reached up to encircle his arm with her hands again. "Thank you for coming to visit, and for staying to watch this with me, even if you despised it."
"It wasn't so bad. In fact, I rather liked it," Ron said, not referring to the film they'd just watched.
Hermione tilted her head up to look Ron in the eyes, the closeness of her face entrancing him. "Liar," she said with a grin. He couldn't remember ever seeing her lips that close-up before.
"Er, I-I liked the first one," he stammered.
Shaking her bushy head and sending wisps of hair at Ron's nose, Hermione tilted her head back down. "I don't really want this night to be over." Her voicing what he felt stunned him. "You're right, Grimmauld Place is dreary, and with everything that's bound to happen..."
"I know," said Ron. It was the only thing he could think to say.
They were silent another minute before she spoke up again. "Ron, why did your mum make you wear that shirt, and send flowers and enough money to pay for us both at the cinema?"
Ron's face heated. "Erm-"
"Did she think I asked you out on a date?"
"I...er..." Now his face felt like a furnace. He paused on her knee. "No. I don't know," he said apprehensively.
Hermione didn't answer right away, but she reached down with her nearest hand and closed her fingers over Ron's on her leg. The empty popcorn bag crinkled between them. "I don't know, either. If it's a date, I mean."
Ron noticed his palms getting sweatier as he answered, "Oh."
"Is it?" Hermione asked softly. Her voice sounded close, and Ron swiveled his head to see her looking up at him again.
"Erm." He felt as though he was in the middle of a nosedive on his Cleensweep. He thought back on everything that they'd done that day, everything he'd experienced. It definitely wasn't a regular old day with Hermione. He didn't put his hand on Hermione's leg, apologize to her, or sit through hours of boredom for her on a regular basis, although something told him he wouldn't mind any of those things. Not much. "I..." He swallowed. "I reckon it might be."
Flushing a pretty pink, Hermione flicked her eyes from his to his lips and back. "Me too," she said earnestly.
Ron twisted his hand underneath hers, so he could capture it, and bravely stretched his neck the couple remaining inches to press his mouth to hers. He knew immediately that it was what he had been building up to all night, and for the past two years. It felt right, like it was the natural progression of things. It also felt soft and warm and comforting, in a way he had always dreamed Hermione would be.
When Ron pulled away, it was only to wait for her smile before beginning again.
Hermione's free hand eventually worked its way to Ron's neck, his to her waist, while their entwined fingers brushed against each other on her leg. The position was awkward, and his neck was sore, but he kept kissing her until he ran out of breath.
Breaking the kiss undid their clasped hands. Hermione nestled closer and slipped her arm around his chest, and Ron embraced her as well. It felt perfect to Ron, the nearness and touching normal now that he'd jumped the hurdle of kissing. He was content to feel her chin on his shoulder and her eyelashes on his cheek.
"I'm really glad you didn't leave when you thought your teeth felt odd," Hermione said through a yawn.
"They did feel odd!" he insisted through his own yawn. "And I'm glad I didn't leave when you told me to."
Both of them chuckled at that. Then Hermione yawned again.
Ron hated to end the best night of his life, but they needed to before they both fell asleep on the settee. The idea was promising, but thinking of his mum Apparating to Hermione's house to see if he was in mortal peril and finding them huddled together was scary enough that he said, "Hey, I think I should get home and you should get to bed."
Hermione nodded and lifted her arm from his chest. "I know. I'm very tired, and it's late." She yawned a third time.
"Yeah, I think my mum might murder me if I'm out past midnight, even if I was on a date like she wanted." He shrugged shyly when Hermione shot him a questioning look. "She was right, after all."
Hermione smiled. "She's a very clever woman."
"I can't seem to get away from those," Ron said in mock exasperation.
Clicking her tongue disapprovingly, Hermione stood up and pulled him to his feet. "Come on, let's get you home before your mum calls me a scarlet woman for entertaining boys at inappropriate hours."
Ron smiled at her quip, though he wouldn't put it past his mum to have guidelines about that sort of thing. He followed Hermione, or rather was dragged by her, to the foyer, where she went up on tiptoe to hug him and give him a fleeting kiss. "I'm not sure why I took you to the foyer," she said, "seeing as you aren't leaving through the door, but it seems right, anyway."
Ron caught her around the back before she stepped away from him and kissed her again. "Be careful. Remember to lock all the doors. I'll send Pig by in the morning so you can owl me if you need to. Or you could just Apparate to the Burrow tomorrow and not be alone," he suggested.
"We'll see," Hermione said with a smile. "Good night, Ron."
"Night." Ron retrieved his wand and began to wave it before suddenly stopping. "Hermione?" he said.
"Yes?" Even with her eyes tired, her hair coming messily out of her silver clips, and her clothes wrinkled from use, she looked radiant.
"Let's go to the Muggle cinnamon again sometime."
As he completed the wand flick, he heard Hermione say, "Cinema, Ron!"
A/N: Thank you for reading! All reviews are highly appreciated!