The Eyebrow Incident
By She's a Star
Disclaimer: Jo Rowling owns pretty much everything. Even Ron's eyebrow.
Author's Note: Why, by George, she's done a post-HBP fic! Took me long enough, huh? ;-) I'm nearing the end of my first reread of book six, and Ron and Hermione are just so damned awesome beyond all words that I couldn't help but do this little fic. That turned into a somewhat bigger fic than I'd planned, but ah well.
This is set during chapter twenty-two in HBP, after Ron and Hermione's fateful Apparition test. Dun dun dun!
Also, I could not remember for the life of me if Zacharias Smith was in their year or not, and though something tells me he's in Ginny's year (The HP Lexicon, alas, could not; I felt very betrayed), for all intents and purposes where this fic is concerned, let's pretend he's a sixth year, okay? Please? I'm rusty at this fic-writing thing, and deserve mercy. And all that jazz.
Ron Weasley had never, until this moment, harbored any particular feelings one way or the other where his eyebrows were concerned.
Granted, there was the occasional moment when they were brought to his attention – when they got badly singed during a game of Exploding Snap, maybe, or when they, despite his best efforts, refused to change colours because apparently a stupid ruddy moustache would suit him better. But all in all, before now he simply hadn't paid them much mind.
Maybe that's where he'd gone wrong.
It's just that he hadn't thought to pay attention. Really, what kind of git paid attention to their eyebrows, anyway? Not anyone Ron knew, that was for sure. And it figured, it damn well figured, that he was the one who'd been forced to suffer for an error that pretty much everyone who happened to be sane committed right alongside him. Why couldn't it have been some other bloke who just happened to not pay attention to his eyebrows?
"Because," he muttered bitterly to himself, and kicked at an unsuspecting patch of ground for good measure, "it's always me."
He didn't see Hermione failing, and was pretty sure she didn't pay a whole lot of attention to—
Sighing, Ron gave up on that particular train of thought. Fact was, he couldn't quite bring himself to get upset at her over this; he'd never for a second expected her not to pass, after all.
And besides, he decided, the thought accompanied by a somewhat unpleasant sinking sensation, I suppose I've been upset at her just a bit more than necessary already this year.
Yeah. Just a bit.
Anyway, what it really all came down to was that no one paid attention to their eyebrows, or even really needed them, if you wanted to get even further into the whole thing, and what the bloody hell was half an eyebrow worth?
Well, all right, apparently lots of stuff, according to the examiner (who was, Ron suspected, the kind of bloke that paid a whole lot of attention to his eyebrows). If one went by what he'd said, well, then, that half an eyebrow had utterly encompassed the fact that he was unprepared and, quite frankly, not yet mature and responsible enough to take on the grand and glorious responsibility that was Apparition.
"I'd like to see him face down a troupe of Death Eaters and a couple of mad brains and see who's mature and responsible then," Ron mumbled venomously.
For a second, his heart took up residence in his throat and he was overcome by the very acute sensation that he might be sick; he immediately dodged a few feet to the left, preparing to disappear completely behind some makeshift hiding place, only to meet the horrifying discovery that there was nowhere to hide.
Resigning himself to his fate, he took a deep breath and slowly raised his eyes to meet—
"Honestly, Ron, this is just getting foolish," Hermione said, exasperated.
The sight of her standing there, her lips pursed in disapproval and hands placed on her hips, was enough to fill him with the overwhelming desire to throw his arms around her for the sole fact that she wasn't Lavender Brown.
And, well, er, also for the fact that he'd been in a particular mindset over the last few years in which throwing his arms around Hermione wasn't at all an unwelcome prospect.
But mostly because she wasn't Lavender.
"Oh," he breathed, not bothering to mask his relief. "It's you."
"It's me," Hermione confirmed wanly. "You know, I don't know why you have to get so worked up every time I say something to you without you seeing me – she and I sound nothing alike."
"You've both got girl voices," Ron returned gravely. "And if you'd had to put up with her the way I have, damned if you wouldn't be a bit jumpy too."
"Yes, well," said Hermione, in a lofty sort of way, "I doubt I'll ever put up with her the way you have." The corner of her mouth twitched, suggesting a poorly concealed smirk.
Ron scowled at her. "Ha, ha."
Hermione allowed herself a smile, and they began walking back down the square. Ron didn't mind – he was very keen indeed upon putting as much space between him and that mad examiner as possible.
"So," Ron said, and shoved his hands into his pockets, trying not to pay too much attention to the way Hermione's arm would occasionally brush against his, "I suppose this summer you'll be popping in and out of places like mad, then."
"Oh, no," said Hermione, and wrinkled her nose. "I hated the way Fred and George kept doing that constantly once they'd passed – very obnoxious," she added, and sniffed.
"Well, yeah," Ron said, "but there's Fred and George for you."
"I suppose," Hermione agreed, and upon casting a sidelong glance at her, Ron realized just how excited she was to have passed – and just how hard she was attempting to hide it, for his sake.
He felt a sudden surge of affection toward her, and took a moment to be thankful for the fact that his hands were safely inside his pockets – he wasn't sure he'd have been able to resist reaching out and taking her hand in his, otherwise.
"Congratulations, Hermione," he said instead, and forced a smile at her.
She smiled back, but kept on staring at him rather intently, as though trying to find some clue as to just how upset he was regarding The Eyebrow Incident.
Well, he wouldn't give it to her. He figured she deserved to be happy about this, without being forced to worry about him.
"Really," he pressed earnestly. "You were brilliant."
Hermione's smile grew a bit brighter, and she reached out and touched his forearm for a moment. "Thanks."
How he'd managed to convince himself for God knew how many years that he wasn't completely in love with Hermione Granger, he had no clue. In any case, he was glad he'd finally come to terms with it – it was about time he'd accepted the inevitable. (And the inevitable, as it so happened, could be rather nice indeed.)
For a rather hazy moment, he found himself contemplating whether it'd be a bad idea at all if he were to simply lean down and kiss her, right then and there. True, he wasn't quite sure that she'd want him to, but it couldn't be just him, could it? She'd nearly asked him to Slughorn's party and shot canaries at him when she'd found out he was going out with Lavender. Those were the sorts of things that meant something, right?
Of course they did. They had to.
His internal To Kiss or Not To Kiss debate was ceased immediately at the sound of a very unwelcome (though not quite Lavender-unwelcome) voice, ringing through the air.
Hermione turned to face the direction the voice was coming from, and, in doing so, removed her hand from Ron's arm.
For a moment, Ron tried valiantly not to scowl before capitulating. Funny, really: he didn't need any more reasons to detest Zacharias Smith – he already had quite the impressive collection of them – and yet they just kept on coming.
"Oh," Hermione said, and glanced anxiously at Ron as soon as she realized who it was. "Hello."
"I hear you passed your Apparition exam," Smith said, and grinned widely at her. Ron didn't punch him. It felt a very notable feat.
"Oh, um – yes," Hermione said, a bit unsurely. There was hardly a question of where her sudden insecurity had come from. "Yes, I did."
"Me too," Smith proclaimed smugly, and then, after a moment, deigned to refocus his attention upon Ron. "What about you, Weasley?"
Killing him wouldn't be such a big deal, really. Did anyone actually like him? Probably not. Ron doubted even his own parents were overly fond of him. Yeah, he'd probably be doing the world a favour, really – a great big favour – he and Harry could become a sort of beloved duo in the Wizarding World, even! The Boy Who Lived and The Boy Who Killed The Boy Who Never Shut His Bloody Mouth Even Though He Damn Well Would If He Knew What Was Good For Him.
Well, maybe that was a bit lengthy.
But that was the message that'd need to be got across, basically.
"He practically passed," Hermione was saying all of a sudden, and Ron glanced over at her in surprise. "It was just a little thing – he'll be able to do it next time with no trouble at all, I expect."
Smith was staring at her with a smug skepticism that made Ron seriously contemplate what might make a fitting shorter version of his new mighty and heroic title.
"Really?" he asked, and smiled again.
He'd look much better, Ron concluded, with a couple of teeth knocked out.
"Yes," Hermione said firmly.
"Huh," Smith said, feigning offhandedness. "Well, that's nice of you to tell me, Hermione. I guess Weasley's not ready to talk about it himself just yet," he threw in, fixing his eyes on Ron.
And, really, in addition to the teeth, he'd probably be able to pull off a black eye nearly as well as Hermione could.
"Can't have been a really little thing," Smith went on, with the pointedly airy tone one might use to talk about the weather, "or else they wouldn't have failed him, though, right?"
Come to think of it, his whole head was a bit unseemly: decapitation suddenly held an undeniable allure.
"You get splinched?" Smith asked, faux-conversationally. "Leave a toe behind, or something?"
"Don't see why you find it so fascinating, Smith," Ron growled. "Don't you have friends to celebrate with?"
"Sure," Smith said, and shrugged easily. "I just thought I'd say hi to one. Anyway, congratulations, Hermione," he said, turning to her and smiling.
Hermione said nothing in return, but fixed him with a rather steely glare that Ron himself had gotten to know very well thanks to years of sneaking perfectly innocent looks at her essays and, every so often, accidentally bumping into Crookshanks with his feet.
Smith looked a bit taken aback, but recovered after a moment; he shrugged, awarded them both a look that confirmed he thought them nothing short of spectacularly mental, and turned to head back to a group of Hufflepuffs some thirty feet away.
"If I killed him . . ." Ron began, attempting to keep an even tone.
". . . you'd be put in Azkaban," Hermione reminded him reasonably.
Or possibly the next saviour of the Wizarding World, of course, but he wasn't sure Hermione was ready to digest that particular possibility.
Instead, he simply opted to glower moodily at Smith's back as he walked toward his friends. "Can't believe that great brainless idiot passed and I didn't."
"Yes, well," Hermione said, sounding a bit uneasy. "It just comes easier to some people than others, that's all."
"And naturally it doesn't come easily to me," Ron grumbled, aware that he was venturing toward dangerous territory, where the moping ran rampant, but couldn't quite bring himself to care. "Big surprise, eh?"
"Don't say things like that," Hermione said in a no-nonsense tone that only held the slightest trace of pity. She began walking again, and after she'd taken a few steps, Ron chose to follow her. "You'll be able to take it with Harry this summer," Hermione continued with perfect confidence. "He'll like that."
"Yeah," Ron said glumly to his feet. "I s'pose so."
"And it's just an eyebrow," Hermione went on smoothly.
"Half an eyebrow," Ron corrected her despite himself.
"Half an eyebrow," Hermione amended. "See? That'll be no problem at all next time. Smith's just a big prat, that's all."
Hearing Hermione talk about anyone like this was somewhat rare – he almost suspected she was doing so to cheer him up – and Ron couldn't help but feel a bit less disheartened as he glanced up at her.
"He is, isn't he?"
"Absolutely," Hermione said brightly.
"A great big prat," Ron went on, unable to resist. "It's a wonder that he's got any friends at all; perhaps his mum pays them to—"
And it was then that something occurred to him.
"Say, why was he being so friendly toward you?"
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked immediately; her gaze flew to the display in the Honeydukes window. "You know, I'd love to get more of those deluxe Sugar Quills—"
Deluxe Sugar Quills, however, were pretty much the last thing on Ron's mind, though a rather detached part of him wished he could be thinking of them, as they were infinitely less terrifying. Instead, a myriad of new and nausea-inducing possibilities had spread out before him, all of them involving Zacharias Smith and Hermione standing far closer to one another than should have been allowed—
Well, a logical little voice in the back of his head that he found himself wanting to somehow tear from his skull piped up, you were snogging Lavender bloody Brown, for God's sake. I suppose you couldn't blame her for—
But no. No. This . . . this was just too much. Sure, he knew Hermione had never liked Lavender very much, but that hadn't been why he'd started snogging her! He'd started snogging her because she was the only girl he'd known who didn't stare at him in disgust when he came within two feet of her! He hadn't meant to hurt Hermione by it, exactly.
Or, well, yes he had, kind of.
But he felt completely awful about it now! And besides, nothing he could possibly do could even begin to hurt Hermione as much as the thought of her and . . . and . . . oh, God, he couldn't even think it without wanting to bash his head against something very solid—
"You didn't—" he managed to croak, before his voice failed him and he had to take a moment to compose himself. "You haven't—" he tried again, but to no avail. "You two aren't—"
He took a deep breath and finished, unable to mask the sheer misery the idea caused him, ". . . friendly, are you?"
Because Viktor Krum was one thing, but Smith—
Hermione had seemed to understand exactly what he was asking, despite his slight lack of coherence, and her brown eyes had widened slightly as she hastened to respond, "No, no! Not at all. Nothing like that."
A huge weight seemed to be lifted from his chest, and he took a reassuring breath.
"Really?" he inquired weakly.
"Of course not," Hermione said, and looked vaguely disturbed at the idea herself. "I can't stand him, you know that."
"Well, yeah," Ron admitted, "but Harry can't stand Malfoy, and that hasn't stopped him from going all creepy and obsessed—"
"Harry is not friendly with Malfoy," Hermione cut in sharply, now unmistakably revolted.
The very idea that she had taken the comment seriously was enough to make Ron's stomach do a few disgusted somersaults as well.
"'Course he's not!" Ron barked. "I wasn't serious!"
"Don't joke about things like that," Hermione ordered sternly.
"I didn't mean to," Ron snapped. "S'not my fault that that's all Harry talks about these days."
"I think I know perfectly well who Harry fancies right now," Hermione said, with utmost conviction, "and it certainly isn't Malfoy."
"No kidding, it isn't Malfoy," Ron said, pulling a face. "He hasn't gone completely mental." He paused and took a moment to eternally banish that particular concept from his mind, before inquiring interestedly, "Who do you think he fancies, then?"
"Oh, just someone," Hermione said vaguely.
Great. Really nice of her, not to go all cryptic and annoying about this. Otherwise, he'd have been forced to get a bit frustrated with her.
"I deserve to know," Ron reminded her. "I'm his best friend too, you know."
"I know!" Hermione said. "It's just that . . . well, I'm just guessing. It's not definite, really. And I wouldn't want you to get . . . forget I mentioned it."
"I hate it when you go all mysterious," Ron informed her sulkily.
"Do you?" Hermione replied loftily, clearly enjoying his irritation. "So, speaking of fancying, how are things with Lavender?"
"Fancying," Ron scoffed. "Yeah, okay. I'd fancy pushing her into the lake, more like."
"Quite the excellent boyfriend, aren't you?" Hermione observed dryly.
He was struck by a sudden nervous pang at this; it seemed unlikely that Hermione would ever agree to go out with him, were she to be under the impression that he was the kind of guy who wanted dearly to shove his girlfriends into large bodies of water.
"It's not that!" he protested immediately. "I mean, I don't – I wouldn't actually do it, you know."
Hermione kept a straight face, but her eyes were sparkling in amusement. "Yes, I doubt you would. Terribly chivalrous of you," she threw in, and he rolled his eyes and elbowed her good-naturedly in the side.
"It's just . . ." he paused, attempting to decipher how, precisely, to go about saying this in a way that wouldn't forever damn the chance of a relationship between Hermione and him. "We're not exactly compatible, me and Lavender."
"You don't say, Won-Won," Hermione said in mock surprise, laughing a little.
"Yeah," Ron said, and let out a rather dark laugh himself. "You know, she's not very good to talk to."
"Yes, well, talking can be a bit difficult when your mouth is busy all the time," Hermione pointed out reasonably. Ron was struck by the impression that perhaps she was enjoying this just a bit too much.
"Yeah," he said awkwardly. "You know, about that—"
"It's fine," Hermione cut in briskly. He could not help noticing that her eyes had dimmed slightly; something in her expression suddenly suggested that this was a topic she very much wished to avoid.
It was kind of ironic, Ron supposed, when one stopped to think about it – after all, if it hadn't been for Hermione, he seriously doubted he ever would have kissed Lavender Brown in the first place.
Yeah, that seemed about right. Really, it all came back to Hermione and . . .
"Hermione," Ron discovered he was saying; it seemed that he had lost control of his own mouth and vocal cords, "did you really snog Krum?"
Hermione looked utterly taken aback.
"I . . . what?" she finally sputtered weakly.
Ah. Right. This was probably the sort of thing that he wasn't supposed to voice aloud, then. Never mind that it had been driving him entirely out of his mind ever since he'd found out about it in that stupid, stupid conversation with Ginny—
"Sorry," he mumbled, and stared with utmost concentration at his shoes. "You don't have to answer that."
"He kissed me," Hermione replied, strangely prim. Ron felt for a second as though a Bludger had slammed head-on into his stomach. "After the Yule Ball."
Ron realized at once that he could have lived a long, happy, and utterly complete life without having ever discovered that particular piece of information.
"Ah," he replied faintly.
"How . . . how did you find out?" Hermione asked delicately, looking very much like Ron felt.
"Ginny," Ron said.
"Oh," Hermione said, and offered him a very weak smile. "Remind me to hex her later."
"I'll do that," Ron agreed, very surprised that he still harbored the ability to talk. "Might even join you, actually."
Hermione laughed, sounding oddly shrill and forced.
They continued walking in silence, nearing a group of Slytherins who were also making their way back to the castle. Ron was careful not to let his arm brush hers.
Well. This was bloody awful beyond all reason.
Silence. Silence. And even more silence. Well, except for the sound of Hermione breathing – sure, it was light, barely audible, but really, he'd take what he could get right now.
Out of sheer cluelessness as to what he might do next, he finally found himself beginning to count her breaths. He'd gotten to twenty-six, and dimly recognized the fact that they seemed to be getting closer together, when—
"Oh, really, Ron!" Hermione burst out angrily. "You can't tell me that you're not speaking to me because of that!"
"What!" yelped Ron, caught off-guard.
"Yes, Viktor kissed me," Hermione said; Ron worked up enough courage to look at her, and found that her eyes were alight with fury. "So what? Once. He kissed me once, Ron, and really, it was very, very nice! I'm not going to pretend it wasn't just to make you happy, when you spent months acting as though someone had performed a permanent sticking charm on Lavender Brown!"
She paused to take a breath.
"Er, Hermione—" Ron bravely attempted.
"And besides," Hermione plunged on, ignoring him completely, "you aren't the least bit entitled to act as though you've been horribly wronged! At that time, you barely even noticed that I was a girl! And yet I still told Viktor that I couldn't kiss him anymore! Meanwhile, we had a date and everything, and you just decided to . . . to blatantly disregard it, and stop talking to me without the slightest bit of warning, and go off and have a lovely little saliva exchange with a girl you barely know for no reason!"
"You kissed Krum!" Ron snapped in his own defense, almost without realizing he was doing so.
"Two years ago!" Hermione howled. "What in the world gives you the right to get mad at me because I kissed someone once two years ago?"
Well. It did sound a bit stupid when it was put that way.
But damned if that was reason enough to back down from a bickering match with Hermione.
And so Ron indignantly yelled out the first thing that popped into his head.
"I didn't want you kissing anyone!"
"Why not!" Hermione demanded, livid.
"BECAUSE I WANT T—. . . no reason."
Bloody fucking hell.
(It was the sort of situation for which extravagant swearing was downright required.)
What was wrong with him?
"Just because," Ron finished, as forcefully as he could manage.
Hermione was staring at him with a very peculiar expression on her face, and damned if he could blame her. After everything he'd felt for her over the past few years, after all the (okay, admittedly, slightly irrational) agony that thoughts of Krum had caused him, after all the fantasies of what going out with Hermione might have been like, and he proclaimed that he wanted very badly to kiss her in the middle of a screaming match?
He was doomed.
A bachelor for life.
Might as well start checking out Malfoy himself.
"Oh," Hermione said lightly.
"Yeah," Ron agreed hesitantly.
"All right then," Hermione said, and then resumed walking again.
Very much at a loss regarding what he might do, Ron finally decided simply to walk along with her.
"So," Hermione said, after a moment of silence.
"So," Ron echoed helpfully.
Suddenly, leaving behind half of his eyebrow seemed a very trifling matter.
"I wonder what Harry's up to," Hermione ventured, in a courageous attempt at normal conversation.
"Yeah," Ron said, eager to follow her lead. "He'll be pleased to find out you passed, I expect."
"You think so?"
"Of course. He's your best friend, isn't he?"
"One of them," Hermione agreed, and managed to surprise him quite thoroughly by slipping an arm through his.
And so they continued to walk arm in arm, in a much more companionable silence, back towards Hogwarts, leaving Ron to reflect that just maybe passing one's Apparition test wasn't such a big deal after all.
"Can you believe some people actually didn't pass?" rang out Pansy Parkinson's shrill, unpleasant tones from the group ahead of them. "I hear that Weasley forgot his eyebrow!"
This inspired an explosion of malicious laughter, as well as the impromptu composition of a second version of 'Weasley is Our King,' which chronicled expansively his inability to Apparate like any self-respecting seventeen year old and his shoddy job of caring for his own eyebrows.
"I'm pathetic," Ron announced despondently, and began staring woefully down at the ground again.
Hermione sighed, in a long-suffering sort of way.