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Spoiler Warning: This story takes place during the events of Chapter Nineteen in the Half-Blood Prince and consequently contains heavy spoilers.

Smart Girls

When Hermione heard Ron had been poisoned, she was sitting calmly in the Arithmancy classroom, waiting to speak with Professor Vector. It was incredibly quiet in that wing of the castle, being a weekend morning. If it hadn't been so still, she probably wouldn't have heard the whispered conversation in the hallway.

"Dear heavens, Minerva. Did you hear? The Weasley boy, Ralph, has been poisoned."

Hermione didn't hear much after that, as her stomach had dropped to her knees and her heart instantaneously turned to ice. But she recognized, vaguely, that Professor McGonagall had ushered Professor Slughorn into one of the classrooms.

It wasn't until well after curfew, when she couldn't do anything about it, that Hermione realized that in her haste she had left her Arithmancy textbook, along with her favorite quill, behind.

The frantic run to the hospital wing was a blur, a litany of prayers and pleas that Ron would be there when she arrived. That it wasn't too late… Oh god. Hermione should have gone after Professor Slughorn and McGonagall, made them tell her he wasn't dead. Slughorn would have said if he was dead, right? Would have said "dead," not "poisoned."

Ron couldn't be dead. He just couldn't. There was no way… Hermione would know if he were dead. She'd know and he wasn't. He was going to be fine. Fine.

Outside the hospital wing, Harry and Ginny were locked in intense conversation, Harry with his arms tightly crossed. They both looked tense and upset, but not devastated. If Ron was dead, they'd look much different, right? He wasn't dead. He wasn't.

Hermione interrupted their conversation without a thought, skidding to halt in front of Harry and grabbing his arms to keep from falling over. "I heard...Ron…" she panted. It occurred to her that it was strange that she wasn't crying. Maybe she was too scared to cry. "What happened!"

Harry grasped her elbows, steadying her and looking as though he was afraid Hermione was going to collapse or go insane. Both of which were valid concerns. "Ron was poisoned," he said quietly.

"I got that!" she snapped back, a bit too harshly. She wanted to shake him. "Is he all right? Is he…?" Hermione couldn't finish the sentence. Because it wasn't necessary. Because Ron was not dead.

"He's fine," Harry said in a rush and relief poured from her. "I mean…I dunno…" Hermione did shake him this time. Was he trying to kill her? Push her over the edge? "I mean, I got a bezoar in his mouth on time."

Thank god, thank god. Hermione nodded, as her hands dropped limply, and the breath she hadn't known she was holding came hissing out. Thank god. She never would have believed that she would be grateful for that damn Half-Blood Prince.

Hermione listened intently to the story of what had happened, or at least she tried to. By the time Harry and Ginny's discussion had wandered off into the world of speculation, she no longer heard a thing. Relief turned her numb. Or maybe it was fear. She wasn't going to really believe Ron was all right until she saw for herself. Alive and whole and Ron.

She leaned against the wall, wringing her hands endlessly, until they were chapped and sore. For hours and hours and hours, Hermione stood outside the hospital wing, where the boy she swore she would never speak to again lay, praying that she would get the chance to speak to him again.

Looking back, her thoughts were pretty incoherent. Mostly things like, 'please, god, don't let him die' and promises that she would forgive Ron for everything as long as he was ok. Mixed in were a few vows that if anything did happen to him, she was going to murder Lavender Brown for steeling his last few months from her. And it wouldn't be a pleasant death either.

But that wasn't fair, not really. Lavender stole her hopes for something more with Ron, but it was Hermione who decided that she couldn't be friends with him anymore. She knew that Ron was just waiting for her to stop being angry and simply start talking to him again. He had been waiting for months. He would happily pretend nothing happened and pick up where they left off. And they'd go back to being friends. Just friends.

That's how it always worked with Ron. With every one of their rows and every row Ron had with someone else. He just waited until the other party had calmed down and pretended that it never happened. He tried to do it after Christmas, talk to her as though he hadn't betrayed her, broken her heart, and stomped on it for good measure.

Not once in their friendship did Hermione remember him apologizing to her. And she was determined not to let Ron get away with it this time. This time, she was too humiliated, too hurt, too betrayed. That he could do that to her in so ruthless a manner, after six years of friendship…

No. She just was not giving in this time. If Ron wanted to be her friend again he was going to have to beg. Beg and plead. Or, it seemed, get himself poisoned.

The hours outside the infirmary were some of the longest of Hermione's life. All she wanted was to talk to him again. She didn't know what the hell she was going to say, but she needed to talk to him.

People rushed in and out and Harry scrambled for a view of Ron, but Hermione's feet were lead. The placations given to them by Madam Pomfrey and the various teachers who slipped by did little to calm her. Of course, seeing Mrs. Weasley come out bawling didn't helped either.

When Ron's parents first arrived and were escorted into the infirmary, Hermione had the horribly unkind thought that they couldn't possibly need to see Ron more than she did. She wished they understood. She and Ron hadn't spoken in months. Didn't they comprehend that she needed to talk to him?

But when the doors finally opened, well into the evening, and Hermione found Ron lying so still and pale on the bed, she couldn't talk at all. All she could do was stare and collapse into the chair next to his bed, the chatter around them becoming a dull roar in her ears.

It wasn't until Ron mumbled something completely incomprehensible in his sleep that her head cleared enough for her to realize that the twins had arrived. Those mumbled sounds allowed her to breathe again, reassured her that Ron was still in there. After all, half of his utterances were incomprehensible anyway. He was going to be all right. He wasn't going to die.

Hermione was even able to listen to the conversation Harry and Ginny were having with Fred and George, to try and finally take in what they were saying about the poisoning. It almost made it worse that Ron wasn't the target. She managed to participate in the conversation, though her ideas were hardly up to her usual intellect and her voice was strange and hoarse to her own ears.

But she was glad she was paying attention. Otherwise, she might not have been alert enough to hear Ron mutter, "Er-my-nee."

Her heart stopped. But just for a moment, then Hermione realized she must be imagining things. Ron hadn't actually called her name in his sleep. It was a mumble and nothing more.

Hermione waited, holding her breath, silently praying that Ron would say just one more thing and prove her wrong, prove he had been calling for her. But he just babbled unintelligibly and he fell asleep again. At least now, she could reassure herself that he was truly just asleep and not... She wasn't going to think about that.

Er-my-nee. It was probably just more babble. A coincidental string of sounds. Hermione was certainly assigning more meaning to it than there really was. Please, it wasn't as though it were possible that Ron actually called out her name, in his sleep, from a hospital bed. Did she think this was a romance novel? Or a Daydream Charm? It certainly sounded like something out of a recent fantasy of hers.

Regardless, it did make Hermione feel better and she didn't really have the energy to analyze that further. Besides, she was feeling…more herself. Actually, she felt more like herself than she had in months, ever since a brooding green-eyed monster called envy took over her body.

Hermione was actually able to hold some semblance of a normal conversation when Hagrid arrived. She was even able to leave so the Weasley family could be alone.

Though later, in her bed, far after curfew had ended and she couldn't go back to the infirmary, she regretted it, wishing she hadn't left until she'd been able to actually talk to Ron. All Hermione had heard from him was that muffled "Er-my-nee," that rang in her head, over and over, making her think about dangerous things, and driving her slowly insane.

From behind the curtains of her bed, Hermione heard Lavender gripe to Parvati in muffled tones that Ron had brushed her off this morning. She was furious that he hadn't spent his birthday with her.

Oh, god, it was his birthday. Ron turned seventeen today. He became a man and almost died. The need to see him again became so intense Hermione could hardly breathe.

But Lavender wouldn't stop complaining and Hermione felt a rush of fury, along with the familiar need to rip her roommate's throat out. It was then that she realized Lavender didn't know. She had no idea that Ron had been poisoned and almost died. She just thought he went off to have fun with Harry.

Well, it seemed, the monster inside Hermione was far from dead, because she didn't say one word. She let Lavender whine and complain, and stared at the ceiling, secure in the knowledge that she knew where Ron was and that…that awful girl didn't.

Hermione had been the one who waited, terrified, outside the hospital wing, not Lavender Brown. If she was a good girlfriend, the kind that was right for Ron, then she would know he was ill. She wouldn't need Hermione to tell her. At least that was how Hermione justified it to herself.

Eventually, Lavender and Parvati went to sleep, but the monster had been reawakened and had no intension of resting. Doubts and questions tripped over themselves in Hermione's mind.

As much as she wanted to, should she really go back to the hospital wing? What would she say to Ron when he woke up? What would he say to her? Did he even want her there? Wouldn't he rather have Lavender, instead? Did Hermione really want to torture herself like this again? Did she really think she could stand it if he woke up and she wasn't there?

The only question she knew the answer to was the last and it was a resounding no. Hermione needed to be there.

She managed to control herself for the majority of the night, staring at her curtains and the ceiling alternately. She desperately wanted to be sitting at Ron's bedside. Though, she had no idea how she could justify such a thing. Who was Hermione to be allowed to sit with him all night long? She wasn't his girlfriend. She wasn't even his friend. Not anymore.

At about quarter to five, she had had enough. Hermione couldn't stand her suffocating bed or this oppressive room one more minute. She slipped out of bed and into her school uniform. After all, though there was a clear start to the curfew, there was no clear end. Hermione was merely getting up a tad early to get a fresh start on the day.

She grabbed her Ancient Runes textbook on the way out the door. If anyone stopped her, she would just say that she was getting an early start on her studies. Who would question that? It wasn't the first time Hermione had awoken early to go study. Though this might be the earliest.

On the way to the hospital wing, she began to think maybe she should be going to study. She had no idea what she was going to say to Ron. Hermione's mind was racing in circles, telling her to turn around. But her body mustn't have been listening because before she knew it, she was at Ron's bedside.

He still looked horrifically pale, even in the moonlight, but he was moving restlessly under the covers and snoring softly. Reassured that he was all right, Hermione crumpled into a chair. Now what? Did she really want to sit here and wait?

The answer must have been yes, because Hermione settled back into her chair and opened her textbook. She might as well study here as anywhere. But the text swam in front of her eyes and for the first time she realized that she hadn't slept. Exhaustion hit her quickly and she didn't remember anything after that.

Ron was in Potions class. Only Snape was still the teacher, but he was fat like Slughorn and there seemed to be something McGonagallish about him as well… Maybe it was the Scottish accent.

But he really didn't have time to contemplate the strangeness of his teachers as, unfortunately, his cauldron was boiling over. Ron didn't even know what potion he was making. He had no idea what he was supposed to do next. He didn't belong in this class. He wasn't even close to being good enough for Advanced Potions.

Now, the potion seemed to be eating away at his cauldron. No one else's was doing that. Ron could do nothing but stare, vaguely alarmed. "Hermione? Hermione, I think there's something wrong with my potion."

There was no answer and Ron glanced up only to see Snape smirking at him. He turned to Hermione who sat next to him, completely oblivious to his distress.

"Hermione, I need your help. It's eating through the table." Still there was no response. "Hermione! Will you bloody well look at me!"

Ron finally realized that she wasn't so much ignoring him as not seeing him. As though he were invisible or not even there. Hermione worked solemnly on her potion with perfect cuts and measurements, her perfectly graceful hand making perfect clockwise stirs, and her perfect features arranged in a perfectly serene expression.

Desperation started in the pit of his stomach and slowly filled Ron's body. Why wasn't she paying attention to him? The potion now eating its way through the floor was forgotten. He didn't give a shite about the ruddy potion or about failing the blasted class or…

"Hermione!" Ron bellowed as loudly as he could. She didn't flinch. Harry was looking on, smiling blandly, unconcerned. "Listen to me! Goddamn you, Hermione!" Ron forced himself into her face, shouting in her ear, but she worked on. He tried to grab her, but there was an invisible barrier and as hard as he tried, his hands never reached her.

Hermione hummed to herself as she worked. Another voice called, "Hermione," and she looked up, immediately smiling. Ron followed her gaze and growled. It was Krum…or McLaggan. More like some sort of great, hulking duck-footed combination of the two.

Beaming at the freakish creature, Hermione dropped her paring knife and canary feathers. She turned to him and allowed it to pull her into a vigorous snog.

"Get off of her! Hermione! Hermione!" Ron redoubled his effort to get to her, trying to pull the Krum/McLaggan creature off, but he never got near enough.

Then Lavender was suddenly standing next to him and smiling up into his face. "Come with me, Won-Won," she murmured seductively, pulling on his shirt.

Ron shook his head frantically. "But my potion," he said lamely, still staring at Hermione, fighting nausea at the sight in front of him.

"I'll help you with your potion," Lavender crooned, her hands stroking his chest.

What the bloody hell was she going to do? Lavender wasn't even in Advanced Potions. She didn't belong here. Ron tried to pull away, but she clung harder.


She wasn't listening and he couldn't get to her and none of this made any damn sense. This had to be a dream. It was the only explanation. Nothing this bizarre could be…

Ron's eyes snapped open and slowly adjusted to the darkness of the room. Of course, it was a dream. Thank god. What a bloody nightmare that had been. Then it hit him. Ron felt like absolute shite. His throat was scratchy and dry, his head pounded, every muscle in his body ached, and he felt vaguely nauseated. Argh. What happened?

His eyes finally came into focus and he looked around. Wonderful. The hospital wing. Of course. Where else would he be on his seventeenth birthday? Didn't it just---Whoa! Hermione?

Sleeping soundly in a hard hospital chair was none other then the best friend who had not said one civil word to him in almost three months. Her head was flung back and her mouth slightly open. Hermione looked wildly disheveled with an ever-present textbook flung across her lap. And there had never been a prettier sight. Well, maybe pretty didn't quite express it.

Ron's first thought was that he was still dreaming, since, of course, Hermione hated him and, last he'd heard, wasn't speaking to him, which generally meant not sitting at one's bedside.

He attempted to lift his arms to rub his eyes, but only succeeded in triggering sharp pains in his arms and a wave of dizziness. That felt awfully real. And for a dream this was awfully dull.

Damn. Ron couldn't believe it. Hermione was honest-to-god sitting vigil with him. A slow smile spread across his face, followed by a wave of irrational giddiness that caused the pain in his body to dull significantly.

Did this mean she was talking to him again? It had better. Ron had had quite enough. It was getting bloody ridiculous. Since when did their rows last this long? And this time Hermione's stubbornness was at an all time high and she was…meaner than he'd ever seen her. A clever, passionate girl was quite a scary thing when they were hacked off at you. Or, well, anytime at all.

Ron had been starting to get afraid that it wasn't going to just go away this time. He was beginning to think he was going to have to do something drastic. Like apologize.

Apologize. The idea always made him slightly ill. Especially when he did not do anything wrong. Well, mostly didn't do anything wrong. Ok, maybe he had done a few things wrong, but Hermione was being completely irrational.

Ron had wondered if breaking up with Lavender would help the situation, make Hermione forgive him. But ditching someone was a terrifying prospect. Almost as bad as apologizing to Hermione.

If he knew for sure that chucking his girlfriend would work and he would get Hermione back… Well, that would be one thing, but given Ron's luck he would break up with the only girl that ever wanted him and Hermione still wouldn't talk to him again.

Well, it seemed it didn't matter now, Ron thought with satisfaction. All he had to do to get Hermione to forgive him was to get himself stuck in the hospital wing. Far easier than any of his other ideas. He really should have thought of it earlier. Under all of Hermione's defenses and catty girlness she was just too caring and too good to abandon him in his time of need.

Ron sighed, feeling absurdly content, triumphant even. Naturally, that only lasted a moment before it occurred to him that just because Hermione was here now, didn't necessarily mean she wouldn't abandoning him after he was released. Shite.

Ok, this wasn't hopeless. He rubbed his face roughly. He could get her to stay, he had his in. Ron just needed to make sure---

His internal discussion was interrupted when his lungs decided it was the exactly the time to rebel and Ron was seized with a coughing fit that sent him into a fetal position. What the bloody hell had happened to him? And damn, was fate really this cruel? Couldn't it give him one ruddy minute to plan what he was going to say the Hermione?

The pain in his chest and head was intense and he was having trouble breathing, but through it all, he heard a concerned yelp, "Ron!" He forced his tightly-shut eyes open to see Hermione rush from her chair, her book falling carelessly to the ground.

"Are you all right?" she asked in a wonderfully soft, concerned voice as she sat next to Ron on the small bed, holding his arm and rubbing his back as the coughing subsided.

Well, this was ok. Maybe fate was on his side after all. This was certainly a much better result than anything Ron could have hoped for with pretty much anything he said.

"Do you want some water?" Hermione asked quietly, cradling his head.

Ron was wrong. This was way better than ok. He nodded jerkily, giving several more weak coughs. Ok, so maybe now he was exaggerating it a bit, but he certainly saw no reason to stop coughing. It was working, wasn't it? Hermione reached over and grabbed a glass from the table next to his bed and held it to his lips. The worried look on her face was just plain fantastic. He couldn't help but act just a tad weaker than he actually felt.

In reality, Hermione's nearness was making him feel less and less sick by the second as adrenaline pumped through his veins. Ron wrapped his hand over hers, holding her fingers to the glass as he drank greedily. He peeked up at her, wondering if she had always looked this beautiful close-up or if he'd just forgotten.

The contact was leading to a strange kind of euphoria and everything seemed better than it was yesterday. When he finished the water and Hermione took the glass away, he groaned at the loss of contact and reached for her blindly, trying to sit up. Immediately, her hands were on his shoulders, holding him to the bed. And that was really, really ok.

"Careful, Ron. You almost died," Hermione chastised. He'd missed her chastising. Her voice was hoarse, making Ron wonder if she had been crying. Had she been crying over him?

"I did?" he croaked. He should be upset about that, right? Scared? The happiness he was feeling was probably completely irrational. But Hermione was fluffing his pillows and easing Ron back onto them with soft hands. He had never been so glad that his pajamas were threadbare and thin.

"You were poisoned," Hermione said in a pained voice that she reserved for the most horrible of tragedies. Ron knew all of her voices. How many people could say that? Three months apart and he knew her better than Krum or McLaggen ever would.

"Don't you remember?" she asked. Ron shook his head, wincing. Apparently, not all the pain was gone. "You drank some poisoned mead in Slughorn's office."

"Mead?" he repeated dumbly, honestly having no idea what she was talking about. Though to be fair, he was awfully distracted by her lips and he had been poisoned. According to her anyway. Wouldn't expect him to be all together sharp at the moment.

Hermione pierced her lips, in that adorable way she does that means she's about to discuss 'very important matters.' "What do you remember?"

It took Ron a full minute to realize that she wanted him to talk. Right, ok. He could do that. "Um…I remember waking up and getting my birthday presents…"

Ron told her everything he could think of. It was a humiliating story, really. Romilda Vane? Yelch! Yet, he told it in enormous detail. Anything to keep Hermione sitting there, nodding solemnly, familiar and normal. "…when we came down stairs Lavender…"

Damn it, Lavender was going to be really hacked off at the way he had… Then he noticed Hermione had become stiff and was no longer looking at him. Shite. Shite. Shite. How could he be so stupid? Who cared if Lavender was angry? "Then we went to Slughorn's and I don't remember much else," he finished quickly. Now, he'd really bungled it.

Hermione was clutching her hands together tightly, her jaw locked, and her eyes fixed to the floor. Bloody hell, now what? This was the Hermione he'd seen for the last three months. He hated this Hermione. He wanted was his Hermione back.

"Well," she said in a clipped tone. "It seems you are feeling quite all right, so I should be going. If you would like, I could wake up Lavender and ask her to sit with you." Hermione's words were bitter and ice cold. They felt like a slap in the face. What would she do if he took her up on her offer? Damn it, she was standing. What the hell? How did things go so bad so fast?

Panicked, Ron grabbed her arm with a strength that surprised even him. He reckoned he didn't have time for the weak game any more. "Wait!"

She paused, turning to look at him with a hard expression of her face. Ron could lose her for good. It was there, on her face. Hermione was shutting him out. He couldn't breathe. Impulsively, he blurted out, "I'd rather have you here than Lavender."

Ron hadn't meant to say anything that…blatant, or vulnerable for that matter. Actually, he didn't know what he meant to say, but Hermione's face did soften, not much, but enough. She sat back down on the bed, careful not to touch him, except that he still had his hand firmly wrapped around her forearm. He reckoned she wasn't very happy about that either, but he had no intension of letting go.

Hermione kept her eyes firmly ahead. Holding herself still and keeping her back to him, she said haughtily, "I don't understand why you would prefer me to your girlfriend."

Bloody hell. She was really going to make him work for this. Damn it. Well, at least she was still here. Ron settled his head back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling. Now what was he supposed to say? He could literally feel himself start to sweat as he tried to think of something, anything.

The silence must have gone on too long for Hermione's taste and she started to stand again. Ron tightened his grip on her arm and pulled her back. It was now or never. He burst out with the first thing he thought of, "Lavender's not very smart."

Hermione's head snapped back and she met his eyes with a shocked expression. Slowly, she sat back down, this time with her hip pressed firmly against his. Good, this was good. Apparently, this was a reasonable course of action. Ron opened his mouth to speak again, but nothing came out. Crap. He wasn't going to be able to look at her and do this.

Fixing his eyes on the ceiling, he tried again. "We don't talk much, Lavender and me," he managed to say with great effort, sweat dripping into his eyes, his face warm. "There isn't much to say. She isn't even all that fun to be around when we're not… She doesn't challenge me or make me think or make me want to be a better person…" Ron trailed off, swallowing.

He hoped Hermione appreciated this because it was the most difficult thing he had ever done. Still unable to look at her, Ron concentrated on the ragged sounds of her breathing and the tension in the forearm under his hand, waiting for her to speak.

"Then why…?" Hermione croaked and then cleared her throat. He couldn't look at her. He couldn't. "Why are you…? Why don't you find someone smarter?"

Ron couldn't help it, his eyes snapped back to her. Her question was bold, but Hermione had never looked so vulnerable. She still had her back to him and her eyes fixed across the room, but they were glistening and her profile looked almost defenseless. It made him ache.

Did she want him to find someone smarter? The thought gave him the strength to press on. "Because…" Ron squeezed his eyes tightly shut. This was getting harder. When was she just going to forgive him? "Because smart girls are kind of scary." His throat was dry again.

"How so?"

He almost laughed. Was she trying to kill him? "Um…they are strong and well, better than me at everything---"


"And they know immediately when I'm not good enough. When I'm not smart enough. When I can't play Quidditch good---"

"No! Ron, no! I---"

If Hermione wanted to hear what he had to say she had better stop interrupting. Ron was on a roll and she wasn't getting another chance at this information. "Smart girls," he said more forcefully, never having felt more exposed, "realize that I'm… Smart girls don't have their first kiss with inexperienced losers. They kiss famous Quidditch---"

Hermione gasped. "How? I never said---"

Ron ignored her. Could she just stay in the metaphor? Didn't she understand that he needed the metaphor? "Smart girls would rather snog more experienced men. And why shouldn't they? They deserve a bloke who knows what to do with a girl." By the time he was finished he was panting and a part of him just wanted to disappear.

It was all so stupid anyway. Blokes don't get all sentimental about their first kiss. So what, if he had it in the back of his mind that it was something he and Hermione would share? That shouldn't matter to him. He wasn't a nancy boy.

"Oh, Ron." Her choked sob finally got Ron to open his eyes. Damn it, he hadn't meant to make her cry. "Ron, I…" Hermione sniffed a bit, then said in the smallest of voices, "Smart girls can be pretty stupid sometimes and…and full of themselves. They can forget to tell people how great they think they are..." Her voice broke, but she had Ron's full attention.

"But," Hermione continued more forcefully, her jaw becoming harder. No. No "buts." He liked where this had been going. "Smart girls can't read minds, Ron, and when a bloke gets angry at them for something that happened two years ago and doesn't tell them, then how the hell are they supposed to know?" When she finished she was bright red and yelling.

Ron was stunned speechless, his chest tight. How much more did Hermione need from him? He had just opened himself up more to her than he had ever… He didn't have much more to give. "Hermione," he snapped before he could stop himself. "What do you want from me? Do you want me to beg?"

Hermione drew herself up and took a deep breath. Looking him unabashedly in the eyes, she primly and politely stated, "Yes, I think I would like that very much."

Ron clenched his jaw and scowled at her. He couldn't believe it. She was…so damned Hermione! She just had to strip him down to nothing. It wasn't enough that he had almost died. No, she had to take away his last shred of dignity.

When he didn't respond, Hermione tore her eyes away and looked back down, whispering so softly he could barely hear, "You really hurt me, Ron. You have no idea how much and it didn't even bother you---"

"Of course, it bothers me," he snapped back. How could she think…? When this whole thing started Ron had no idea Hermione would react like this, that she'd be so hurt, so rejected. It hadn't been his intention… Well, he had wanted to hurt her, to get her back. But if he'd understood then that she'd felt this strongly… Well, then maybe none of it would have been necessary.

Hermione seemed to be in so much pain. He wanted to make it stop. He wanted it all to stop, but he couldn't… Completely overwhelmed, Ron opened and closed his mouth impotently. When she finally turned her eyes back to him, he wanted to cry.

Looking at her pleadingly, Ron said the only thing he could think of, "Hermione, please."

Her lip trembled and her face just sort of…crumpled. "Well," she choked out, "I suppose that's good enough." Then Hermione sniffed and threw herself down on his chest, hugging him tightly and sobbing softly into his pajama top.

Ron went limp with shock. Well, all right then. This was ok This was brilliant. It seemed he hadn't bungled it after all. Even the pain that Hermione's weight was causing in his chest was brilliant.

A moment later, Ron gladly wrapped his arms around her, smiling with relief. It was surprisingly easy and comfortable. His hand automatically found its way into her hair, tangling itself in her curls in a way that he had never been able to do before. It wasn't silky and smooth like Lavender's, it was soft and fluffy. But that was good, really good. The way hair should be.

Ron was absurdly content for someone who had just been poisoned, on his birthday no less, and had a girl weeping onto his chest. Maybe he should get poisoned more often; it felt that good. Unfortunately, his chest didn't agree and he was seized with another coughing fit.

He tried to suppress it, but his chest heaved and his eyes watered, odd choking sounds emerging. Hermione pulled away and a deep, hacking cough surfaced. Ron turned his face away to spare her. Damn it, couldn't he have had one more minute.

"I'm sorry," she murmured, wiping her face with one hand and grabbing her wand with the other. She quickly refilled his glass and handed him more water.Regrettably, Hermione seemed to now realize that he could hold the cup on his own. She wasn't sitting so close anymore, either. Shifting uncomfortably as he hastily drank, she said, "Ron, I…I reckon I should go."

He jerked the glass away from his mouth, water sloshing over onto his hand. "Why?" he whined. "The sun isn't even up. Class isn't for hours."

A small smile crossed her face and she looked at him almost shyly. It was a very pretty expression, seductive even. "You should rest," she insisted sweetly.

"Hermione," Ron drawled, smiling playfully. Suddenly, he new everything was going to be all right. They were going to be all right. "How many hours have I slept?"

She let out a small huff of a laugh. "A fair few. You gave us quite a fright."

Ron smiled. "Sorry about that," he said, though he wasn't sorry at all. He grabbed her hand, feeling oddly confident and uninhibited with touching her all of a sudden. He wondered if it was his experience with Lavender that brought about the change or if it was thinking that he might never talk to Hermione again.

"Tell me what happened," Ron asked in a cajoling tone, which was probably inappropriate to a talk about poisoning, but such was their lives.

"I suppose," she said coyly, playing along with a half smile.

Hermione started to stand and Ron quickly grabbed her hand, frowning. "Hey, where are you going?"

Hermione laughed, a soft delighted sound. "Going back to my chair."

Oh. "What's wrong with here?" Ron asked boldly, in a tone one used when they were flirting. That was what he was doing, flirting with Hermione. Not that sad, awkward, immature flirting they use to do. But real flirting. He should probably feel guilty about it as he still had a girlfriend. Technically, anyway. Hopefully not for much longer.

Hermione blushed and Ron's smile widened, she looked so cute when she blushed. Sitting back down and relaxing her hand in his, she bit her lip and asked, "What if Lavender came in and saw this?"

Ron frowned, wishing she didn't have to bring up that name again and just shrugged. He hoped she understood the message, which was clearly, 'who cares?' Though, he was secretly thinking it was irrelevant as there was no way Lavender would be awake at this time of day. Only his Hermione would come to see him at dawn.

It was obvious that she was suppressing a smirk as she drew herself up straighter and began, "Well, then, I don't know exactly what happened, as I wasn't there, of course. But according to Harry…"

Ron leaned back and listened to the sound of Hermione's voice, trying to look appropriately serious, and not sit there grinning like a fool. Looked like he got what he wanted for his birthday after all.

Hermione was absurdly cheerful for someone who had a sum total of one hour of sleep. Especially since that one hour was obtained at the bedside of her…best friend who had almost died yesterday. Best friend. Yes, it seemed they were best friends again. Best friends with just as much potential as they always had. Perhaps even more. Take that, Lavender Brown

Ron was well on the road to recovery. Relief, exhaustion, and pure exhilaration had Hermione feeling giddy and vaguely dizzy. Plus, she hadn't really eaten in twenty-four hours, having completely forgotten about food until after she left Ron that morning and breakfast was over. All day, it took every ounce of energy she had to stay awake in class and not fade away into the realm of daydreams.

Harry kept throwing her strange, concerned looks. Perhaps, because Hermione couldn't summon the strength, or concentration, to raise her hand, even once. Thankfully, the professors knew what happened and refrained from calling on either of them all day.

Or maybe Harry was responding to was her oddly calm demeanor when Lavender threw a fit in Charms that morning after she found out her boyfriend had been the hospital wing for twenty-four hours without anyone telling her. Just thinking about it made Hermione smile.

It was mid-afternoon, after Ancient Runes, when Hermione finally had a chance to go see Ron again. Her good cheer was significantly dampened when she stepped around the corner and saw Lavender come out of the hospital wing. She had wasted no time going to see Won-Won, it seemed.

For a moment, Hermione actually considered turning around and going back to Gryffindor Tower, but she'd promised Ron and he'd been so lovely this morning and he had almost died, so… She stepped back into an alcove and allowed her hated roommate to pass.

Hiding might have seemed a bit immature, but it served the dual purpose of avoiding confrontation and giving her the opportunity to carefully observe her rival unnoticed. Hermione was not above taking any advantage she could get. Three months without Ron had been hell and there wasn't a lot she wouldn't do to get him back. And this time she wasn't letting go.

Lavender had a mopey, distracted look. Her expression was hard to interpret, but at least she didn't have that disgusting lovesick look that she often carried. Though, Hermione would have much preferred tears, the kind that come after a break-up, but that was probably too much to hope for.

The slightly depressed look on Lavender's face could mean that things hadn't gone well with Ron. Which was good, of course. But then again, she could just be upset that her precious boyfriend had almost died.

Hermione was still frowning when she entered the infirmary. Ron was lying on his side, facing away from the door. As she came closer she realized that his eyes were closed. Though, for some reason he didn't really seem to be sleeping. At least, not to her.

She narrowed her eyes, calling softly, "Ron."

His eyes immediately snapped open. "Hermione?" he whispered back.

She narrowed her eyes further. "Yeah…" she said cautiously.

"Is she gone?"

"Who, Lavender?"

"Of course, Lavender. Who else? Is she gone?"

For a moment, Hermione could only stare at him with her mouth hanging open. Ron was avoiding Lavender? Pretending to be asleep? Was she misinterpreting this because she really wasn't at her best? "Um… Yeah, she just left."

"Oh good." Ron breathed a sigh relief. With an absurd amount of energy for someone hospital bound, he sat up and scooted back on the bed to lean against the headboard. Bright and alert, he grinned at her, like a puppy ready to play.

Hermione couldn't help but laugh. A short incredulous laugh, that couldn't be contained due to the elation rising from her stomach and the exhaustion that had stripped away any control she had over her emotions. Well, if he wanted to play, she could play.

"If you're tired," Hermione offered sweetly. "I could go---"

"No! No, I'm fine."

Giggles were threatening to erupt. She did her best to suppress a smile as she teased, "Are you sure? You looked as though you were napping. I wouldn't want to interfere with your recovery."

"Hermione," Ron whined with an adorable pout and a seductive cajoling look in his eyes. "I'm bored. Sit with me. Tell me about your day. Tell me about yesterday. Tell me about last week. I haven't talked to you in ages."

"You talked to me this morning," she laughed, "for hours." Hermione couldn't believe this was really happening. It didn't seem real and it was way too good to be true.

Ron continued to pout at her for a moment, then he burst out, eagerly, "Did you bring me my homework?"

Definitely too good to be true. Hermione blinked at him, trying to clear the cob webs from her mind. She might just be dreaming. It would be awful if she had fallen asleep in class. "What? No, I---"

Ron's face fell. "But you always bring me my homework," he said, sounding genuinely disappointed.

Oh. Was that what this was about? Suddenly, Hermione was fighting the urge to cry. She wanted to throw herself at him and kiss him. But he still had a girlfriend. For now, he had a girlfriend. Things like that can change quickly.

Blinking away the stinging in her eyes, she said softly, "I must have forgotten. You shouldn't be doing homework today anyway. You're recovering. I'll bring it tomorrow." Hermione smiled to herself, realizing that she now had a daily excuse to see him. Not to mention, Lavender could have brought him his homework, but he didn't ask her.

Ron grinned, even as drawled huskily, "But I'll get behind in my studies."

Hermione's heart flipped over. If his tone and words were intended to seduce her they were certainly working. The fluttering low in her belly surged with warmth and she could feel a flush travel all over her skin. "Well, then, I suppose I'll have to help you catch up," she managed to croak out.

His smile was beaming as he watched her settle into the chair next to his bed. His gaze was so warm, she thought she wouldn't be able to stand it, but, somehow, she managed to keep up the conversation. Though, she had no idea what they talked about. But it was wonderful and it lasted until Harry and Ginny dragged her away for dinner.

Four days later, Hermione still caught herself humming happily in the hallway. Funny how the desperate heart-wrenching fear of almost losing a loved one could be turned into something so…lovely.

She was walking down the hallway when she heard Harry yell, "Hermione. Oi, Hermione."

She paused and looked back to see Harry trying to extricate himself from a frowning Lavender with no little amount of difficulty. Finally, he jogged over to her with a look of relief on his face. It looked as though no one fancied talking to Lavender now a days. Hermione did her best to suppress her petty smile. She really must work on being a better person about this.

"Lavender bothering you?" she asked with as much innocence as she could muster.

Harry rolled his eyes, muttering, "You have no idea." He put a hand on her back as he guided her to the Great Hall for lunch. "Hey, Hermione?" he asked in a suspiciously casual voice. "When you visit Ron, he's…alert, right?"

Hermione had to bite her lip to keep from smirking. "Mmmhmm. Of course."

Harry narrowed his eyes, giving her a knowing look and a lopsided smile. "I don't suppose you would be surprised to find that Lavender was just complaining to me that Ron is asleep every time she goes to visit him."

"Well, he does need his sleep," she said innocently. "It is a shame. Poor Lavender. So, she hasn't had a proper visit then?"

She received a barking laugh and shrewd smile from Harry. "Yeah, and I'm sure it's just killing you." Hermione couldn't help it, the giggles just poured out and Harry joined in, chuckling.

After they had calmed down a bit, Harry asked, "So, when do you think Lavender is going to figure out that Ron has been avoiding her?"

This time, Hermione didn't even try to hide her self-satisfied smile. "Dunno. Lavender isn't really very smart, you know."

Author's Note:

I hope you enjoyed my first story outside the Of Hearts and Heroes universe. Smart Girls is the first in a series of five, three missing moments and two post Half Blood Prince story. The next is called Not All Together Dumb and will hopefully be up a few days after this one.

For any of you anxious for the next installment of Of Hearts and Heroes, I promise it's far from abandoned. I'm just taking the opportunity to fully enjoy the HBP universe, before immersing myself back in my own, now very Alternate Universe. :)

Many thanks to my wonderful Pre-betas MissBrooke06 and Hope813, and to kjcp for being agreeing to be my Beta and doing such a great job. Also thank you to GigiC who challenged me to write this fic and finish it before August first, therefore giving me permission to put aside my incredibly boring revisions and properly celebrate book six. Be sure to look for the fic I challenged her to write, Perhaps, at Checkmated soon.