A/N: I finally finished something new. Hooray!
Disclaimer: All characters and romantic intrigue belong to JK Rowling. I'm just playing around. Jay-Z is the man behind the little quote at the beginning, though I took the liberty of changing a word in it (at once both censoring and adapting it to the story – aren't I clever!)
"If you're having girl problems I feel bad for you, son
I've got ninety-nine problems but a witch ain't one"
What a ruddy waste of money.
After more than fifteen minutes of dismayed staring at the thing, that was all Ron's mind could come up with. But in all its simplicity, it was nothing but the truth. How could anyone in their right mind – even someone as silly and abnormally girly as Lavender Brown – be prepared to spend as much as a Knut on something like this? And with that writing… Oh, the horror.
Her sweetheart? I think not.
With a disgusted grunt, Ron stuffed the disturbing artefact back into its box and put it on the floor before sinking back into the armchair with a dejected sigh. How had it come to this? How had something that at first had seemed like such a perfect and convenient solution to a pressing problem evolved into this… this… monster of a situation, which he couldn't seem to find a way out of.
You could always ditch her, you know.
Yes, of course he knew that. But things aren't always as simple as they seem, are they? And as much terror that filled Ron's heart at the thought of wearing that hideous chain anywhere in public, it wasn't nearly as much as the thought of having to look into Lavender's furious expression (he'd seen it once or twice already, and didn't wish to encounter it again) and timidly suggest that maybe they shouldn't go out anymore. She'd made it all too clear that in her mind, the time-span of this arrangement was indefinite.
Seriously, how had it gotten this far? All he'd wanted was a snog, so he'd know what it was like, and so he wouldn't have to quiver with shame at the thought of everyone else having done it, except for him. Sure, he could've ended it there, after that first night in the common room. Told her he wasn't interested in anything more, could they just stay friends, all that crap… Blokes did that all the time, didn't they?
But he'd remembered the look on Hermione's face in that empty classroom. Not that it was a look he'd really want to remember – she'd looked about ready to fall apart, he recalled with a sickening sensation in his stomach – but as miserable as it made him to see her miserable, he at the same time felt strangely triumphant. Hadn't he suffered endless torment while watching mental movies of her and Krum, going at it in the hallway, in the dark corners of the library, under the Quidditch stands… There was hardly a sliding staircase unused by the Hermione Granger and Viktor Krum of Ron's imagination.
You never really saw them at it for real, though. Like she saw you.
Well, no… But he might as well have. It was all too vivid in his mind. And that night in the nearly deserted hallway, with Ginny angrily confirming one of his worst fears, had only enhanced the image. So seeing even a glimpse of the same kind of internal torture he'd endured reflected on Hermione's face had been a glorious victory.
Then it turned out she wouldn't talk to him anymore. Wouldn't even look at him, except for quick, contemptuous glances. He'd figured it would all blow over, him and Lavender would be through within a week, and it could all go back to normal. Had he ever been wrong…
Giving another enormous sigh, he ran both his hands through his hair, then let them fall down onto the armrests of the chair.
"All right there, dear brother?"
Ron looked up to see that Bill had appeared at his side. He had evidently just been out for a walk as his face was red from the whipping winds.
Ron shrugged. "Depends on how you look at it," he said and turned his gaze gloomily to the crackling open fire.
He hadn't really meant it as an invitation to sit down and have a brotherly heart-to-heart, but apparently Bill took it as such as he dropped down into the armchair opposite. Ron could feel himself under heavy scrutiny by Bill's stare.
"It's that poor, love-struck miss Brown, isn't it?"
Ron met his brother's eyes for a moment, then looked away again. It was no use playing stupid. Fred and George had obviously told everyone. And Bill had grown too old for the kind of teasing his twin brothers so dearly loved to put him through. So he decided it was safe to tell the truth.
"You wouldn't believe the present she gave me. A bloody necklace! Heart pendant and everything."
Even Bill – old and mature as he may have been – couldn't suppress a smirk. "How… fashionable."
Ron made a face. "Tell me about it. I just don't know what to do! This is getting way too weird."
"Yeah. She always wants to have these talks, you know?"
"All too well," Bill admitted.
Ron threw his hands up in the air. "It's like… it's like she loves me or something!"
Bill shrugged. "Maybe she does."
Ron stared at him, horrified. Surely not? Seeing the look on his face, Bill continued, "Well, it's not such a strange thought, is it?"
"Yeah, it bloody well is!"
"Not really. A lot of girls at that age get very emotionally involved in a relationship. Merlin knows, when I was in my sixth year, I had a couple of really messy break-ups where the girl was just much more into it than I was. And I'm telling you, watching someone you care about – even if it's just a little – cry their eyes out, or even just be on the verge of tears, because of something you said or did is not a pleasant thing."
He didn't have to tell Ron that. A fleeting, horrible image of Hermione's face after his cruel imitation of her in Charms class passed through his mind."Hm," was all he could manage.
"I mean, you like this girl, right?"
Ron shrugged. "Dunno. I mean, I guess she's pretty, and she's okay to be around, and she's good at the…uh, well you know…"
Bill snorted. "Yeah, I know."
"But it's not like we ever just… hang out because we like to, or talk about anything that matters, or just have a laugh or anything. It's all just…"
Ron felt his face flush. "Pretty much, yeah. And fun as that is, it would be nice with something…"
"More?" Bill filled in again.
"Yeah," Ron admitted quietly, and then the two of them sat in silence for a good minute, the only sound coming from the crackling fireplace.
The question caught Ron completely off guard. At the mere mention of her name his heart sped up. "What do you mean?" He struggled to keep his voice normal.
Bill raised his eyebrows at his brother's evident unease. "What I said. How are things with Hermione?"
Ron shifted in his seat. Suddenly the chair felt extremely uncomfortable. "Yeah, well, what do you mean things?"
Bill was clearly struggling not to laugh. "I don't know, Ron, you tell me!"
Ron stopped shifting and instead started drummed his fingers against the armrest. Using his best mock-casual voice, he said, "Things with Hermione are all right, thanks."
Bill narrowed his eyes at him. "Really?"
"Really." Why did he always have to blush? Such a dead giveaway.
"Then how come neither you nor Harry have mentioned her once since you got back here?"
Ron shrugged, adopting a sulky expression. He did not want to talk about Hermione.
"I mean, she usually sends you a Christmas greeting, doesn't she? And I haven't seen one so far."
He most certainly did not want to talk about that particular matter, either. She'd sent Harry one, hadn't she? And Ginny. But not a single written line to him.
And whose fault is that, really?
"Not my ruddy fault she's still pissed off at me," he murmured, not as much to Bill as to that stupid, moralising voice in his head. "She's got no right being upset at me for that, when she and that ruddy—" He cut himself off upon seeing the intrigued look on his brother's face.
"She's pissed off, is she?"
Ron nodded, gloomily. "And it doesn't seem she'll be simmering down any time soon."
Bill snorted. "Crikey. Well, women sure can hold grudges... So, what did you do wrong, then?"
"Why do you automatically assume I did something wrong!" Ron said, attempting a scandalised tone, but it didn't even fool himself, and much less Bill. Of course Hermione wouldn't be mad at him without a legitimate reason. Sighing deeply, he continued in a highly miserable voice, "I really don't know what her problem is. I mean, sure, we were going to that stupid Christmas party together, but it wasn't even as if it was a real date! I'm sure she just meant it as a friends thing when she asked..."
"Hang on," Bill interrupted. "You had a date with Hermione? She asked you out?"
"Well, yeah. But as friends." At least that was what he'd told himself after she'd done it. It's just 'cause you're mates, and she doesn't want you to feel left out if she and Harry go and you can't. So don't get your hopes up, Weasley.
"Did she make it clear that it was just... 'a friends thing'?"
"Well..." Ron thought back on that day in Herbology. She had seemed pretty flustered. And she'd been so angry when he'd suggested she get it on with McLaggen. At the time, it had seemed an awful lot like a not-so-much-friends-as-something-on-a-rather-different-level kind of thing. But he really, really, really hadn't wanted to get his hopes up. And after the whole Lavender business, he'd used it as an excuse to justify the fact that he – without a word of explanation – had cancelled a date with a girl he fancied like mad, in favour of some quality snogging time with her dorm mate.
You evil sod. No wonder she wants your head on a plate.
"I guess not," Ron finished with a sigh. Then, eager to defend himself to Bill and to that annoying little voice in his head, he continued heatedly, "But I still reckon it was! I mean, it must've been. And then I started going out with Lavender and she never mentioned the party to me again. No, instead she went there with bloody McLaggen and probably snogged him in some empty classroom somewhere. Just like she did Krum two years ago. Without even telling me! Not that I'd want to know, mind you. Makes me sick, just thinking about it. But you know what? I bet this is all about her not liking Lavender – she's always thought she's just an airheaded bimbo – and now she's pissed at me for going out with someone she doesn't like."
Crossing his arms over his chest defensively, and feeling his face burn with shame over what he'd just more or less openly admitted, Ron defiantly turned to look at Bill, expecting to see his brother struggling to contain his amusement.
But Bill just sat motionless, hands clasped together and elbows resting on knees, and studied Ron, with a tiny and almost sentimentally sad smile on his lips. "You know what I reckon?" he said softly.
"What?" Ron asked hoarsely, having to avert his eyes.
"I don't think it's so much about her disliking Lavender, as it is about her liking somebody else. A little too much."
This statement, with all its implications, hung in the air for several moments as the two brothers sat in silence. Ron's heart raced as he thought about his brother voicing a hidden hope, and lately sneaking suspicion, he himself had had. It actually could be, couldn't it? That she in fact liked somebody, and quite a lot at that. And if that was it, then he'd thrown away a perfect opportunity, brought about by her nonetheless, just because of his stupid, stupid pride. And this stupid, stupid pride of his was the reason he was now stuck in this fox trap of a relationship with someone he didn't even fancy very much, and would never – no, not ever – fancy as much as the girl with whom he'd screwed things up in the first place.
"I'm such an idiot," he said, almost incredulously, and again more to himself than anybody else.
"When it comes to women, we all are. I'm just glad you realise it," Bill said with a grin. He'd risen from his seat. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off for a little tête-à-tête with my own lovely, idiocy-inducing woman." He moved to walk out, but hesitated in the door. "Oh and Ron, write to Hermione, will you?"
Ron stared at him, bemused. "Write to her?"
"Yeah. It doesn't have to be anything grand, just let her know you're thinking of her during the holidays."
Ron considered this a while, then shook his head. "It won't matter. She'll still be as angry as ever when we get back."
Bill studied him for a moment, that strange little smile present on his lips once more. "Trust me, it'll matter. In the long run."
His tone was so serious that Ron felt the need to lighten things up. "And you expect me to take advice from someone who just admitted to making a bunch of girls cry in school?"
Bill gave a small laugh. "Good point. But now I'm set to marry a remarkable and beautiful goddess of a woman, so I must've done something right along the way, eh?"
With a wink at his little brother, Bill left the room and Ron sat by himself, mind and heart still racing. Everything seemed painfully silent all of a sudden, and he kept replaying the last parts of the conversation in his head. He rose from his seat, then made his way over to the old writing desk in the corner of the room and sat down before it.
It was stupid. He shouldn't. He couldn't.
But his pride was this time overwon by his trust in Bill, and he grabbed a blank piece of parchment and a quill, then slowly, hesitantly wrote:
Just wanted to say Merry Christmas.
Yes, it was short. And not very original. Or heartfelt. But it said what it was supposed to say, and it was signed in a manner that – for him – was utterly personal. He just hoped she would understand that. And that in the long run, it really would matter.
Feeling ever so slightly elated, he went off to get Pigwidgeon.
A/N: Bill is so wise beyond his years, isn't he? I'm sorry he turned out a little bit "women this, women that", but he means well and is just concerned about his baby brother :)
As I mentioned, this is the first new thing I write in ages, and I now remember why I started writing fanfic in the first place. So much fun. I hope you enjoyed it! More to come soon, hopefully...