Ron and Hermione: Missing Moments
Hermione crossed her fingers as she entered the sixth year girls' dormitory. The room was dimly lit, and her roommates' beds were unoccupied. She breathed a sigh of relief, hurried inside, and made haste with brushing her teeth and washing her face. She knew she could not possibly stand facing Lavender tonight. Not tonight.
Hermione threw off her school robes, her jeans, her jumper and pulled on a nightdress before climbing quickly into bed. As her head hit the pillow and she closed her eyes, her mind filled with images, wild, racing images that all seemed to bleed into one picture: Ron's face.
She squeezed her eyelids tight, fighting more tears. It seemed like all she had done these past few months was cry. She was exhausted from the crying, she didn't see how she could possibly do any more of it, and yet incredibly tears threatened. After a moment she gave up, opening her eyes and letting them slide out of the corners and into her hair.
Even with her eyes open, she saw him. His hair falling over his forehead. His face, so pale, so young and vulnerable-looking in sleep. Other images assaulted her mind, too, images of him with his face attached to Lavender's, the two of them not so much kissing as devouring each other. Hermione squeezed her eyes shut once more and shook her head, but the tears were relentless. She saw Ron again, this time in Slughorn's office, his face blue and his throat gurgling as he choked, as he fell to the floor, writhing…dying…
Hermione turned on her side and gave a small, almost inaudible sob.
Ron almost died.
Those three words began to drum in her brain, as they had earlier in the day, when she sat by his bedside.
Ron almost died.
Her chest hurt, her throat hurt. Everything hurt. The things Ron had said to her, the things he'd done, he'd been cruel, she thought they were finally getting somewhere, they had kissed once, for god's sake, and then he started being awful to her, and then he took up with Lavender…
Hermione's shoulders shook as she remembered how many times in the past few months she wished Ron would just disappear. How many scenarios she had envisioned of him vanishing like smoke, and how she felt afterwards. Always, she felt triumphant. Victorious.
Ron almost died.
New thoughts assailed her, all of them based on a single idea: that Ron really had died. That Harry hadn't found the bezoar in time to save him. That she had raced to the hospital wing only to discover the Weasleys and Harry there, the Weasleys sobbing over Ron's body, and Harry looking at her, his eyes empty and haunted, his voice raw as he said, 'Ron's dead. Somebody poisoned him.'
Hermione buried her face into her pillow, crying silently for a few minutes, when she heard the door of the dormitory open.
Quickly she stifled her sobs and feigned sleep.
'…can't believe nobody thought to tell me--' Lavender was saying loudly.
'Shh!' Parvati hissed. 'Hermione's asleep.'
'Oh, is she?' said Lavender, not lowering her voice. 'I guess she probably knew about Ron already. I'll bet she's already been down to visit him!'
Hermione fought to keep her breath even. She felt a familiar, ugly twisting in the pit of her stomach. She had never thought she could grow to despise Lavender Brown. Oh, sure, they had never really got along all that well—and last year the little tart had actually believed all that rot in the Daily Prophet about Harry being a liar (which only made the fact that Ron was sticking his tongue in her mouth that much more galling)—but now…Hermione despised Lavender with every ounce of her being. The rational side of her brain told her it was unhealthy to loathe somebody that much, that the only reason she really despised Lavender at all was because she was dating Ron. But the emotional side of her brain won out, every time. Lavender was nothing but a bubble-headed slag, Lavender was an effrontery to womankind, Lavender deserved a lifetime, full-body affliction of spattergroit…
'Maybe I should wake her,' said Lavender, and Hermione heard her start to cross the room.
'Don't!' said Parvati angrily. 'Dammit, Lav, just leave her alone, all right?'
'What's your problem?' Lavender asked sharply. 'You know how she is about him—'
'My problem,' said Parvati, 'is that I'm sick of all this nonsense between you and Hermione. I'm tired of being in the middle. You got Ron, okay? You won. You don't have to rub Hermione's nose in it, for god's sake.'
Hermione bit her lip. Sometimes, she really liked Parvati.
Then there came a pouty little sniff.
'I'm not trying to rub anyone's nose in anything,' said Lavender. 'I just…' She trailed off, and suddenly began to sob.
Oh, for god's sake.
'Lav, what's wrong?' Parvati sounded distinctly exasperated.
'I think…I think Ron's…not interested anymore!' Lavender wailed. Parvati shushed her again.
Hermione bit her lip again, trying not to smile. Trying not to hope…
'Lav, sit down,' said Parvati, and Hermione heard them sit on Parvati's bed. 'What makes you say Ron's not interested?'
'It's just…' Lavender sniffed, '…he's…he's not spending any time with me anymore, that's all. Ever since Christmas he's been off. And I've never seen him wear my Christmas present!'
I can only imagine what a present from Lavender must be like.
'He could just be saving that for special occasions,' Parvati suggested.
'He didn't take my anywhere for Valentine's Day!'
Really? That's interesting…
'We couldn't go anywhere for Valentine's Day, remember?' said Parvati. 'There wasn't a Hogsmeade visit.'
'He could have done something!' Lavender whined. 'Not even a note, and I wrote him that poem…'
I'm going to throw up. Like Ron would ever write a love note, for Merlin's sake.
'Maybe he's just busy,' suggested Parvati, though she didn't sound all that convincing.
'Busy,' said Lavender, her voice suddenly disgusted. 'That's what he says. Says he has all sorts of homework, and Quidditch practices.'
'Well…he does,' said Parvati.
'Not all the time!' Lavender protested. 'I mean, today? His birthday, Parvati, and he never even came to see me! And nobody even told me what happened to him.'
'Well, it was…quite a shock,' said Parvati. 'I'm sure there was just a lot of panic and everyone…forgot.'
Lavender snorted. 'Yes, well. You'd think he could spare even five minutes for me. I tried to get him to take a walk with me a few days ago but he said he had to go back to his dorm and practice Apparating.'
Hermione couldn't help it; she giggled.
'What was that?'
Hermione quickly covered her giggle with a sigh and shifted under the covers, keeping her eyes closed. For good measure, she mumbled, 'Viktor.'
'Ah,' said Parvati, and Hermione could actually feel the other girl grinning. 'No wonder she's giggling in her sleep. Dreaming about Viktor Krum…'
'Good!' said Lavender, her voice hard and loud. 'Better her dreaming about Krum than about my boyfriend!'
'Shh!' Parvati hissed again.
'Sorry,' said Lavender, but she didn't sound the least bit sorry. When she spoke again, her voice went teary. 'You don't think…you don't think he's going to break up with me, do you?'
Good lord, I hope so.
'No,' said Parvati, a bit too quickly. 'He really could be busy, like he said. And Apparating's really hard. We don't know, we're not old enough for the class, but I heard Neville talking about it.'
'Everything's hard for Neville,' said Lavender waspishly.
Hermione very nearly sat up in bed, ready to hex Lavender on the spot.
'And other people have said it's hard, too,' said Parvati, sounding a little annoyed. 'Even Harry, and he's done it once. Well, it was Side-Along Apparition, but still.'
'I'm telling you, that's not it,' said Lavender stubbornly. 'Something's wrong. It's not just that…that he doesn't spend as much time with me. It's like…it's like he doesn't want to be around me as much, like…like he's making excuses.' Her voice got teary again. 'It's like he's avoiding me.'
There was a long pause. Hermione realized she was holding her breath, and let it out slowly and silently.
'Lavender,' said Parvati, in the delicate tone of one about to bring up an unpleasant subject, 'maybe…maybe Ron's feeling a bit…overwhelmed.'
'Overwhelmed?' said Lavender dully. 'By classwork and Quidditch?'
'No,' said Parvati hesitantly. 'Er…well…you see…maybe…maybe Ron just needs a little…space.'
Yes, space, you space-cadet!
'It's just, you said you used to spend a lot of time with him before, and now you're saying he's avoiding you…'
'That's it, then!' Lavender shrieked. 'He's going to break up with me!'
'Shh! And I'm not saying that!' Parvati insisted. 'Look, blokes…you know how they are, Lav. They all freak out a bit when relationships start to get serious. They start to pull away a bit. It's not because they want to break up, it's just…well…sometimes they like a break.'
Yes, yes! A break-up, please!
'You know, a breather,' Parvati explained. 'Maybe Ron just wants a little space, that's all. It happens all the time. Things start out hot and heavy and you're spending every waking minute with the guy and then…things cool down a bit.'
'You think…you think that's what's going on here?'
'Absolutely,' said Parvati, and now her voice wasn't at all convincing, but Hermione could picture Lavender clinging to Parvati's words, anyway. 'If you ask me, this sort of thing is very healthy,' she went on. 'You don't want to get too clingy with a bloke, after all. Turns them off, really, and besides, it's always best for the girl to have some independence, you know. You don't want the bloke to think you need him too much.'
'Is that what I've been doing?' said Lavender, aghast. 'I've been coming off all needy?'
Oh no, not at all. You only hold onto him like some pathetic clinging vine…
'Well…maybe a little,' Parvati hedged. 'And you know, you might…you might not want to call him "Won Won" in front of people.'
Gee, you think?
'So…so you're saying I should just give him a little space,' said Lavender. 'And avoid nicknames?'
'Yes,' said Parvati. 'That's right.'
'But what if…well, what if I were to, you know, tell him I wanted to go further?' Lavender asked. 'You know…'
Hermione felt sick.
'Lavender,' said Parvati, and Hermione knew she was shaking her head. 'Have a little self-respect, will you? What, you're going to offer him a little happy to keep him interested? A shag to keep him around? Come on. Is that really all you want him to be interested in?'
Hermione felt really sick.
'I'm telling you, you ought to be playing hard to get,' said Parvati firmly.
Oh, by all means, do. Play so hard to get he forgets all about you!
'My mum always says that,' Lavender mumbled.
'It's sound advice,' said Parvati.
'I hate it when she's right,' said Lavender grumpily. 'But…' she added, her tone brightening, 'I suppose if I do that Ron will learn to miss me, right? And he'll be in hospital for a week so that means when I do go see him he won't be able to avoid me.'
'That's true,' Parvati conceded, her voice oddly flat.
'Thanks, Parvati,' said Lavender, sounding cheerful again. 'Well, I'm knackered. I need my beauty sleep if I'm going to see Ron tomorrow.'
'Tomorrow?' said Parvati.
'Well, of course,' said Lavender. 'He was asleep tonight when I went in, wasn't he? So tonight's visit doesn't count.'
'Er, right,' said Parvati, her voice now sounding like one who has given up.
Hermione heard the two of them chatter a bit more, this time Parvati ruminating on the eligibility of Dean Thomas, but she didn't really listen. Her head was too busy spinning with everything Lavender had just said.
Could it really be true? Could Ron be losing interest?
The moral part of her brain told her it wasn't all that kind to hope that Ron would dump Lavender. The logical side of her brain told her Lavender could be overreacting, and that anyway, the last time Hermione had seen them together, it didn't look like Ron had any interest in throwing Lavender over.
No, you're thinking of the last time you saw them eating each other's faces, not the last time they were together…
Which was at breakfast yesterday morning. And…they didn't talk to each other at all! And…they've been like that for a while. She clings to him but he looks like he's…annoyed!
Hermione felt her heart begin to race. She told herself to calm down. She listed a thousand reasons why she shouldn't get her hopes up, the first and foremost being that she didn't think she could stand it if she got her heart broken a second time, the second being that just because Ron did in fact seemed to be showing a lot less interest in Lavender didn't mean he was necessarily interested in her.
But he said my name in his sleep. In the hospital wing…he said my name…
Tears sprang into her eyes again. She couldn't take this. She just couldn't. She was an absolute wreck. The only things keeping her from going truly mad were schoolwork and Harry, who had been a rock for her these past few months. But now everything had changed, and it was all because…Ron had almost died.
She rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. Parvati and Lavender had already gotten into bed and didn't notice that she was, in fact, wide awake. That she was thinking furiously about everything, and how everything continued to culminate into one simple truth: Ron almost died.
He was almost gone forever.
She thought back to how things were last autumn, when it seemed they were starting something between them. Finally, after months and months of missed signals and misunderstandings and Ron's thick cluelessness about the signals she was trying to send; after that kiss at the Burrow that had been interrupted by the intrusion of Phlegm; after a second kiss on the train during prefect duties, and a third that night of the Keeper tryouts, and he still hadn't just asked her…finally Hermione had taken the bull by the horns, so to speak, and had just asked him, and it looked like things were finally looking up for them. And then Ron was suddenly, inexplicably cold to her, and then there was that horrible night, seeing him with her, seeing him kiss her. To setting those canaries on him. To the weeks and weeks of not talking to him, of trying not to look at him. Of wishing beyond reason that he would just disappear, vanish, just go away from her and never force her to look at him, or his stupid freckles and stupid red hair and stupid rough hands and stupid blue eyes and stupid, stupid grin and every other stupid thing about him that she loved.
It was only now, in the darkness of her room, knowing that Ron was sleeping downstairs in the hospital wing, knowing that he had almost been murdered, that she could see what it would be like: her life without Ron in it. With him totally gone, nowhere to be seen, as if he had in fact disappeared forever.
Her throat began to hurt again as she cried silently. Everything was crashing down on her now, and she knew, at the bottom of it all, the simple reality that it didn't matter that he'd broken her heart, that they hadn't spoken in weeks, that things would never be the same for them anymore. It only mattered that he was here and that he not go anywhere. That she could see his stupid hair and freckles and eyes and his smile, even if another girl got to touch that hair, and kiss those freckles, and drown in those eyes and that smile. It only mattered that he know, once and for all, that she didn't hate him, that she couldn't hate him, that even if they could never be friends again, he would understand all he meant to her.
She took a deep breath, the tears drying at long last, the ache in her chest easing. She felt sleep pulling at her, and amazingly, a smile touched her lips. Funny how making decision—even a scary one that offered no guarantees and plenty of risk—seemed to calm her down.
She closed her eyes and slept, and all she saw in her dreams was Ron smiling at her.
It had taken her the better part of the day to steel her nerves, but at about four in the afternoon, Hermione felt her feet carrying her to the hospital wing. She felt as though she was hollow inside, as if she had nothing but air in her body, but it wasn't a pleasant feeling. On the contrary, she felt a little ill.
She reached the hospital wing doors and just as she was about to reach for them, they swung open. Harry and Ginny exited the room: they were both grinning at each other and Ginny was mid-sentence when they both saw Hermione and stopped.
'Hey,' said Harry, sounding a little surprised.
'Hi,' said Hermione, her voice tight. 'Is…Is Ron awake?'
'Yeah,' said Harry. 'You want to see him?'
'Yes,' said Hermione stiffly.
'Right,' said Harry. 'Er…well, I'm sure he'd like that.'
'You think so?' said Hermione, hating the hint of desperation in her voice.
'Definitely,' said Harry. Hermione noticed that Ginny hadn't spoken, and that her face looked very troubled.
'Okay,' said Hermione, glancing at Ginny and then back at Harry. 'I'll just go in, then.'
'Hermione,' said Ginny suddenly, 'before you do…could I have a word?'
Harry glanced at the two girls. 'I'll see you two back at the common room,' he said, with a shrug. ''Bye.'
Hermione bid him farewell without really noticing; Ginny waved at him and he grinned and walked away, and Hermione noticed that she gazed after him.
'What?' She seemed startled out of a reverie.
'You wanted to talk.'
'Oh, yeah.' Ginny's face became very grave. Hermione felt her insides freeze. Did she have bad news about Ron? But surely Harry would have said something if she had…they'd come out of the hospital wing laughing…
'Hermione,' she began, 'before you go in there, I need to tell you something.'
'I just hope…well, I hope you don't hate me when I'm done telling you.'
'Don't be silly,' said Hermione at once. 'What do you mean?'
'Look, I think…I think what happened with you two might have been my fault,' said Ginny hesitantly. 'See…I'd forgotten about it. It was so long ago and I was so angry I wasn't really sure what I said, but I just spoke to Ron and he mentioned it, and that made me remember…'
'Ginny, what are you talking about?'
Ginny took a deep breath. 'I told Ron you'd kissed Krum.'
Hermione stared at her, incredulous. 'Ginny…' she said weakly. 'I told you that in confidence.'
Ginny's eyes filled with tears, and her voice sounded stricken. 'I know. I know, and I'm so sorry! I just…look, Ron caught Dean and me kissing and he said some stupid big brother things and I just lost it. I made fun of him for not having kissed anyone and I just blurted it out about Krum. And I would have told you what I'd done but I was just so furious at the time I couldn't even think straight and I forgot and…oh, hell, Hermione. I'm so sorry. It's all my fault things got so screwed up. If I hadn't shot my mouth off Ron wouldn't have gone running to Lavender.' Ginny said the other girl's name with the same expression she wore when talking about Fleur.
Hermione swallowed. She was stunned, and hurt, and she wanted to be angry, to rail at Ginny for betraying a confidence, to blame her for all that had gone wrong. But when it came to it, it wasn't Ginny's fault. Not entirely, anyway. Hermione had her own share of the blame, for hadn't she implied that Ron couldn't save goals without being helped along by a potion? Hadn't she, in fact, hexed Cormac McClaggen to make sure he didn't outscore Ron in saving goals at the try-outs?
He's so sensitive, so insecure about his Keeping. And Krum…
Everything clunked into place. Ron's behavior, while beastly, at least now had a reason for it. Her logical side argued that it was ridiculous for Ron to lose his temper about something she'd done so long ago—more than two years ago!—but then, Ron had never been rational about Krum. Krum was a living reminder of Ron's worst insecurities, and Krum had once fancied her…
'It's okay, Ginny,' Hermione said at last. 'I probably should have just told him. At least that way I could have explained that it didn't really mean anything. But you were wrong about Ron not kissing anyone before.'
Ginny stared. 'You mean…'
'When? You never said…'
'I couldn't,' Hermione said. 'I just…everything was so up in the air…it happened a few times but neither of us ever really talked about it or confirmed anything and I just assumed we were but I didn't want to say anything unless he did, but he never did, so when I asked him to Slughorn's party…I thought, you know…'
Ginny sniffed; a few tears rolled down her cheeks. 'And then I had to go and ruin everything.'
'You didn't ruin anything,' said Hermione quickly. 'You didn't. We did it. I should have told him about Krum and I should have just asked him…but it was like we were too nervous to talk about it, only now…' She trailed off and sighed. 'Anyway, at least things make a bit of sense now.'
'Are you sure?' said Ginny. 'I feel awful about it.'
'I'm sure,' said Hermione, smiling. 'I'm going to talk to him. I'm…I'm going to just tell him everything. I've been so stupid…' Her voice cracked, but she forced down the lump in her throat. 'I don't know what he'll say but…but I have to at least tell him…you know.'
Ginny's eyes were now brimming with tears, and one slipped down her cheek. 'You know, Hermione, for what it's worth, I don't think Ron ever really liked Lavender.'
'Yes, well, I'm about to find out, aren't I?'
She put a hand on Ginny's shoulder and started towards the door.
'I'll make sure Lavender doesn't barge in on you,' Ginny offered.
'Thanks.' She smiled at Ginny one last time and slipped into the room, feeling slightly sick again. It was time.
She turned to the red-headed figure on the hospital bed.
He was sitting up, flipping aimlessly through what looked like an issue of Flying with the Cannons. He looked up from the magazine when he heard the door open.
Her heart was hammering in her chest as they looked at each other. His gaze pulled her toward him; it was not her feet consciously moving her, but the pull of his eyes on hers. Neither of them seemed to be able to speak. It was only when she bumped into the foot of his bed and stumbled slightly that she was able to blink, to think, and to speak.
He swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing, and said, 'Hi.'
The lump in her throat roared to life again, and again she forced it down. If she started crying now, she'd never be able to say a word. And yet everything she had planned, all that she meant to say, was stuck in her throat. She cast about for something, anything to break the unbearable silence.
'How are you feeling?' she asked stupidly.
He paused, gave her a tiny, lopsided grin and said, 'Like I drank love potion, and an antidote, and some poisoned mead.'
She laughed. He laughed, too. They were laughing together for the first time in months. And then suddenly she was crying. Her resolution to keep her wits about her dissolved at the sight of him smiling, the sound of him laughing, and she was suddenly sobbing uncontrollably, gasping, taking in great gulps of air as tears poured down her face.
Ron's expression became horrified. 'I'm sorry!' he said desperately, reaching out a hand towards her. 'Don't cry, please don't cry. I'm sorry!'
She gave a sob. 'I'm sorry, too!' she managed to say, and she flung herself at the chair beside his bed and sank onto it, because her legs just weren't working anymore. She grabbed his hands then, needing to touch him, to feel that he was real and alive and there, that he hadn't disappeared.
He let her hold his hands, but she felt the tension in his body. He wasn't sure what to do, or what to say, or how to act. She looked up at his face and saw that his eyes were red around the edges, and that he was holding his jaw very tightly.
'Hermione…' he said roughly, and he looked like he was struggling to say something. But she stopped him. She had to speak now, everything had to come out.
'Wait,' she said, and without planning it, she placed her fingertips on his lips. 'Wait. Let me go first.'
She pulled her fingers away, and he nodded.
'I have to say a few things,' she said, forcing words out through a mouth that didn't want to cooperate. 'A lot of things. I'm sorry I didn't tell you about Viktor. Ginny told me she'd let it slip. You shouldn't have heard that from her. I should have told you but I didn't, I thought you'd take it the wrong way but I should have told you because then I would have been able to explain that it didn't mean anything. I didn't…he liked me and I was flattered and he was nice and I was angry at you for not asking me to that stupid ball and I was curious, too, I admit I was curious, so I let him kiss me and it was nice and that's all it was…just nice. It didn't mean anything…'
She took a deep breath. She was babbling, but she couldn't stop now she had started.
'Only I wasn't sure, I thought…I didn't know if I liked him or not, I was so confused…I knew I liked you but you wouldn't look at me and—no, please don't interrupt—and he was nice, he didn't…he acted like a gentleman the whole time and I thought maybe I should just see…maybe I got it wrong, maybe liking somebody didn't have to be confusing and frustrating and so we kissed a few more times and it was nice and that's all it was, that's all…and it didn't matter because I still liked you…and then Viktor went back to Bulgaria and I didn't go to see him, Ron, I didn't…I know you've been wondering about that but I'm telling you I didn't…I didn't want him to get the wrong idea so I wrote to him and told him I wasn't interested in him that way and he wrote back and tried to change my mind and then I said I liked somebody else and he wrote back and thought it was Harry and I…I wrote to him that it was you…'
She took another deep breath; her lungs felt almost painful. She opened her mouth to speak again, but Ron beat her to it.
'You told Krum…about me?'
She nodded, fresh tears filling her eyes. 'I told him I was sorry and I tried to let him down easy after that and he said he still wanted to be my friend, and so…so we were friends…we became pen-pals and that's it…that's all it was…and now…I haven't even heard from him in ages, maybe he's busy with Quidditch, I don't know…the point is I don't care, okay? He's a friend and he's nice but he's not…he's not…' She threw up a hand and indicated Ron, who was staring at her.
'And…and I'm sorry I was so mean about…about your Keeping,' she went on. 'I know you can save goals without help, Ron, I know you can, you're really good and…I didn't know why you were so angry with me all of a sudden…we were all set to go to Slughorn's stupid party and you were mad at me all of a sudden and then…you and Lavender…'
Ron looked away.
'I was so angry, Ron, I was so…I didn't understand, you see? I thought…I thought you and I were…and then you were kissing her and it just hurt…it hurt really bad…I wanted to hurt you back…so I said all these mean things to you and I asked that pig McLaggen to the party just to make you jealous…and…I just wanted to hurt you so badly because you'd hurt me…every time I saw you with her it was…it was horrible and I couldn't stand it and…and—' She forced herself to voice aloud the awful wish she'd made, over and over again, '…I kept hoping you'd just go away…you'd just disappear and I wouldn't have to look at you anymore and…and then you got poisoned…'
She broke down and cried against his hands, which she still clutched tightly in hers. He still hadn't spoken. She felt him loosen one of his hands from hers and then felt it…a pressure on her head. His hand was moving over her hair. He was stroking her hair. He'd never touched her like that. It was beautiful and horrible all at once. Even as his fingers soothed her, her heart ached. He would never be hers now. Even if he and Lavender did break up, she had lost him. He hadn't said her name in his sleep because he wanted her. It was over, before it had even started.
She looked up, feeling his fingers slip from her hair, and steeled herself for the other things she knew she must say.
'I don't want to fight with you anymore…' she choked out. 'I hate it. I hate…I hate not being your friend. And…and I shouldn't say this…I shouldn't because maybe it'll ruin everything…maybe it'll just make things worse but I've fancied you forever and I still do and I know you don't feel the same way and…that's okay. It is. It's okay. I just don't want to fight anymore, and I don't want you to hate me and…and…I just want you to be happy. That's all, Ron. I just want you to be happy and I don't want to make you miserable and if you're happy with Lavender then…then that's okay.'
She released his hands and sat back.
She was done. She'd said all of it, not nearly as calmly or as eloquently as she had meant to, but she had said it. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
He looked at her for a long moment, pinning her with his gaze, licking his lips, looking as though he were searching for what to say to her.
'You still fancy me?' was what he said.
'You…you still…you know…fancy me?'
Hermione looked away; her stomach twisted inside her again.
She looked up sharply; she had not expected him to ask why. How on earth could she answer him? Didn't he know, didn't he understand why?
His face searched hers, and she knew he didn't know. He couldn't seem to understand why she'd want him.
'I mean…' he said, '…I was so mean to you…I've been mean to you lots of times…and I'm not…I'm not…'
He looked down again, at his hands.
'I'm not happy with Lavender,' he said next, and then he looked up at her. 'I only took up with her because…I was hacked off at you. I don't even really like her much.'
'No,' said Ron. 'I mean…I stuck around because…you know…'
Hermione said nothing. Oh, she knew. Typical male. She fought the urge to show any sign of irritation on her face. He had said nothing, judged nothing while she cried her way through her clumsy monologue. The least she could do wait him out and hear what he had to say. And if she were honest with herself, her heart couldn't help but lighten to hear that Ron was, in fact, not interested in Lavender Brown.
'It got boring,' he went on. 'Weird, huh? I mean…I mean Seamus told me I was lucky, you know, that Lavender never wanted to talk or just hang out…and…it was fine at first but then…it's like…that's all there was and it was boring…she never asked me anything and when I tried to ask her stuff she just…you know…and the more I hung around her the more I thought…I thought about you and how you'd nag me to do my homework or try to get me to join spew or even just roll your eyes at me when I made a bad joke…and I missed that.'
He paused, still staring at his hands.
'I was really happy when you asked me to that party,' he mumbled. 'I…I'd wanted to ask you somewhere but I couldn't work up the nerve and then you asked me and…and it was like, a relief, I think. Like, maybe if I'd asked you, you'd say no, but you asked me, so I knew…which is stupid because…because we'd kissed before and I should have figured it out but I kept thinking maybe you were just, I dunno…I didn't know what to think, but then you asked me and...and then Ginny said those things and then I started getting nervous about Keeping and…I freaked out…I kept seeing you with him and I kept thinking…I kept thinking there was no way I measured up, like you were comparing us or something and I know that was stupid, okay, but…hell…I'm stupid, aren't I?'
'No, you're not—'
'Yeah, I am!' he said fiercely, looking up at her. 'I screwed up, Hermione. I know why you didn't tell me about Krum—because you knew I'd blow up and be an idiot about it. And I was, wasn't I? I acted just like you thought I would. Only worse, 'cause I went off and grabbed Lavender, which is by far the stupidest thing I've ever done, and that's saying something.'
'Don't,' Hermione whispered.
'I just…I couldn't believe it,' he went on, as though he hadn't heard her. He was looking resolutely at his hands again. 'I mean…why would you…like someone like me? That's why I freaked out about Krum, see? Because he's better than me. Because…because he's what you deserve. Not me. I just drag you down. I always have.'
'Don't say that!'
'It's true,' he insisted, looking at her once more, his eyes red-rimmed. 'You deserve someone special, Hermione. Because…because that's what you are, you know? You're special and…I'm just not.'
He went back to looking at his hands. 'That's why…that's why I never made a move, you know? That's why I couldn't ask you to just go out with me or be my girlfriend. Not 'cause I didn't fancy you but 'cause…because I never believed you'd really want me.'
'I did,' she said. 'I still…I still do.'
He looked up at her sharply and gave her a piercing look. 'After everything I've done? I've been horrible to you—'
'I was horrible to you,' Hermione pointed out.
'But I'm not—'
'Ronald Weasley, don't you dare say you're not special!' she burst out, her eyes filling with tears. 'Or that you're stupid or that you drag me down! You don't! The only reason I nag you to death is because I know you're talented and smart and you…you just don't try sometimes, that's all! You don't believe in yourself and you should, you're much better than you think you are. And I don't care if you're poor and I don't care if you're not famous, none of that matters, I can't believe you'd think I care about any of that.'
She finished ranting and found herself breathing hard.
Ron gaped at her for a moment, and then cocked his head and said, 'Are you finished yelling at me?'
She opened her mouth to retort, but then stopped, feeling laughter bubbling in her chest. She let it out, mixing again with her tears, overjoyed and overwrought that they were laughing for the second time that day after weeks of not speaking, and she finally said, 'Yes. I'm done yelling at you.'
He grinned, and she added, 'For now.'
He laughed again, and then tentatively took her hands in his. 'I don't want to fight with you anymore, either.' He stared at her hands in his. 'I'm sorry,' he said, his voice thick. 'I'm sorry for every…every nasty thing I ever said or did. I'm sorry for being the world's biggest idiot. And I'm sorry about Lavender.'
He bravely met her eyes, and she just couldn't speak. She nodded.
'I…I really missed you, ' he said.
More tears in her eyes. She felt like a hosepipe.
'I missed you, too.'
'I fancy you like mad,' Ron blurted out; he was shaking, as though the effort to say those five words took physical exertion.
She spared him further agony and launched herself at him, throwing her arms around him and burying her face in his neck. She found herself sobbing once more. Her head was killing her from all this absurd crying, but she only cried harder when he put his arms around her and held onto her. It was the most natural thing in the world, holding onto him, being held by him, and she knew in that moment that they had finally, finally crossed over. That there would be no more misunderstandings, no more missed signals, no more silly adolescent clumsiness between them.
She pulled back, fully ready to sit back in her chair again, but he stopped her and held her close, and she found her face inches from his. She could smell his breath—it smelled of chocolate, he must have been eating Chocolate Frogs again—and his eyes blazed into hers. His lips were right there, her heart was pounding and she was sure she could hear his, too. He drew her close…
'Ron, wait…' For a second time she put her fingers to his lips. 'We can't.'
Ron sagged and looked defeated. 'Why not?'
'Because technically Lavender's still your girlfriend.'
He sagged even further at this, and let go of Hermione. 'Yeah,' he said dully. 'Right.'
'It's not that I don't want to!' Hermione said quickly. 'I just don't think…it wouldn't really be right.'
'I know. You're right. I just...we've done before…'
He looked at her and Hermione sucked in a breath as he brushed his fingertips down her cheek, and then traced his thumb on her lower lip. She felt suddenly very light-headed and there was a tingling, buzzing sensation spreading underneath her skin. She fought to keep herself calm, and sat back in her chair.
She looked at him and took in his expression, which was half-content, half-longing. She decided she quite liked the look on his face.
'What do we do now?' he asked, his cheeks and ears going slightly pink. 'I mean…what does this mean…you and me…what? Do I dump Lavender and ask you out, or something?'
'Is…is that what you want to do? Ask me out?'
'No,' he said, shrugging, but he quickly amended, 'I mean, I do…want to go out with you, you know…somewhere, but…but I feel like…like we don't need to be, you know…like…we're beyond…you know…I have no idea what the hell I'm trying to say.'
'I know what you're trying to say,' said Hermione, unable to resist taking his hand again. 'And you're right. It seems kind of silly now, doesn't it, for us to go through some sort of…courting ritual or whatever. We're already friends.'
'Best friends,' he said interlacing his fingers with hers. She bit back the urge to sigh. He was holding her hand, his roughened fingers were twining with hers. It felt so good. How could something that small feel so good?
'I don't want anything to mess this up,' Hermione whispered, looking into his eyes again.
'Me, neither,' said Ron fervently. He looked like he wanted to say something else, but stopped. Hermione knew at once that he wanted her to lead the conversation, so she did.
'We can't rush into anything,' she said, and he nodded.
'You're right, we can't,' he agreed.
'We haven't talked for ages,' she went on, 'and we were really terrible to each other.'
Ron didn't say anything to that; he just nodded and looked down at her hand, which was still entwined with his.
'I think…maybe we need to start over a bit,' Hermione suggested tentatively.
'You mean…just as friends?'
'Yes,' said Hermione, though it killed her to say it. The tingles in her skin were making her a bit dizzy and part of her wanted nothing more than to leap at Ron and kiss the breath out of him.
He looked up at her. 'Friends,' he said, but he didn't let go of her hand. 'And…then from there…we can…see what happens?'
'Exactly,' she said, smiling. He did understand. 'We should just let things happen naturally, I think.'
He nodded, looking at her with an expression that was now pure longing. 'That sounds like a plan, then.' His voice sounded a bit strangled, as though he was struggling with himself. She felt a rush of excitement heat her blood and knew she would have to be firm, else he'd have his arms around her and his mouth on hers and she wouldn't be able to think at all.
'Good,' she said, keeping her voice even, careful to keep herself sitting back in her chair, but not relinquishing his hand.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, not speaking, still holding hands. They cast shy glances at one another from time to time, but surprisingly, this small awkwardness was the only awkwardness between them now. It felt perfectly normal to hold his hand, to feel the way his fingers brushed hers, to just sit in a room with him and not say anything. It was absolutely wonderful, and for the first time in months Hermione felt something very close to bliss.
'Hermione?' he said at last, and she shivered. It was only her name, but the way he said it, now that things were out in the open for them, now that they had set upon this new path, thrilled her.
'How do I break up with Lavender?'
Hermione bristled; on the one hand, she was quite pleased that Ron really was planning to dump Lavender after all. On the other hand, she didn't feel like talking about that.
'What do you mean, how do you break up with her?'
'I mean, what do I say to her?' he said, and he suddenly sounded a bit lost and desperate. 'Can I just tell her I'm with you?'
'No,' said Hermione, trying not to think about the fact that she'd a Daydream with a very similar and altogether meaner scenario.
'But…' Ron whined, and Hermione shook her head.
'You just have to tell her, Ron,' she said. 'Well, you should be nice about it, I suppose. I mean, she does fancy you rather a lot and you're going to hurt her feelings regardless, there's no getting round that, but I think if you just told her nicely that you didn't want to see her anymore—'
'Yeah, right,' Ron interrupted. 'I can just see how that'll play out. She'll burst into tears and ask what's wrong and want me to talk about my feelings and…ugh, Hermione! I don't want a big scene like that. Can't I just, I dunno, write her a note?'
'You most certainly can not,' Hermione said sharply. She wasn't sure why, frankly, she was being so indignant on Lavender's behalf. Perhaps because even Lavender Brown didn't deserve to have her feelings hurt beyond what was absolutely necessary.
'Maybe I should just start ignoring her,' he mused aloud. 'Or find a way or her to break up with me.'
'What?' said Ron, letting go of her hand and holding up both of his in supplication. 'Come on, Hermione, it's no easy thing, cutting someone loose.'
'Don't tell me you're going to take the rest of the school year to do this, Ron,' she said sternly.
'I'm not!' Ron insisted, taking her hands in his. 'I swear I'm not, you think I want to wait forever for us after…after…' He broke off, and got a dazed sort of smile on his face. 'That sounds cool.'
'What sounds cool?'
Hermione blinked and—good lord, this was getting ridiculous—felt tears sting her eyes.
'It does sound nice,' she agreed.
'But…but I have to dump Lavender first,' said Ron. 'And we'll go slow, so we don't mess anything up.'
Hermione nodded, smiling tearfully.
'Hermione?' he asked. 'I know I can't kiss you yet but…but is it okay if I hug you again?'
'I swear I won't try to kiss you,' Ron promised, looking very earnest just them. The puppy-dog look on his face broke her down, and anyway, she wanted very badly to hug him.
So she threw herself at him, hugging him tightly, laughing, crying, her eyes leaking tears and wetting his neck.
'You're mental,' he said, a smile in his voice as he held her close.
'I know,' she said, her voice muffled by his neck. She pulled back again. 'I don't think…let's not tell anyone, okay?'
'Okay,' he said, but then he screwed up his face. 'Why?'
'Because I don't want any pressure,' she said, and on impulse she brushed a bit of his fringe back from his forehead. He closed his eyes for a moment and leaned into the gesture, and Hermione felt another thrill of tingles under her skin. She wondered if she would even be able to stand up when it was time for her to leave.
'Okay,' Ron said again. 'Just between us, then.'
'Us,' Hermione repeated, smiling. They froze again, in that danger zone, faces inches apart, when she pulled back again. This was going to be much harder than she thought.
You're doing the right thing. He has to lose Lavender first, and then we have to go slow, very slow. Nothing is going to mess this up.
'I should go,' she said, and she forced herself to stand. Indeed, her legs were a bit wobbly.
'Okay,' Ron said a third time, looking a bit crestfallen. He had her hand in his and seemed reluctant to let go of it. 'Will you come see me again?'
'Of course,' she said.
'Tonight?' he said eagerly.
'Not tonight,' she said, biting her lip. 'We shouldn't…we shouldn't see too much of each other alone…I don't think. Well, some time together, yes, but…not too much. Because…you know.'
'Oh,' said Ron, looking glum again, but then he seemed to understand. 'Yeah, yeah, you're right. Okay. But you'll stop by tomorrow, right? Just for a few minutes.'
'I can do that,' she said. 'I'll bring you your assignments.'
Ron scowled. 'Homework? Come on, Hermione!'
She laughed. 'You'll get behind! Remember last year? You promised you wouldn't—'
'—leave my homework late, I know,' said Ron, grinning sheepishly. He was still holding on to her hand. 'You could just do it for me. I am an invalid, you know. The strain might be too much for me.'
'Ha ha,' said Hermione, and she took this as her cue to gently extricate her hand from his. He let go of her fingers and kept his eyes fixed on her as she backed away from his bed, towards he door.
''Bye,' she said, smiling, feeling giddy, wanting to snog the living daylights out of him, telling herself to flee before she did just that.
''Bye,' he answered, and gave her a wave as she bumped into the door and opened it behind her. She backed out of the room with his eyes on her, smiling in a new way at her that sent tingles to her very toes. She kept her eyes on his until she was out of the room and closing the door.
As she walked unsteadily back to the common room, she felt weightless again, but this time it wasn't a sick feeling at all. Instead, she felt giddy. Elated. She began to giggle. Little bursts of laughter that bubbled up in her throat and escaped. She giggled all the way up to Gryffindor Tower.