One funny spell is the one in the back of Hermione's 'Olde Magick for Young Witches' book - a spell she usually refuses to admit exists in public, but one that Ron and Harry can't resist teasing her over. Its called the Bailamo, and its even printed in a shy, awkward script -- as if the author is ashamed of themselves for including it, and hopes no one will notice. Ron especially enjoys reading the page aloud in a false Spanish accent, goaded by Harry, who joins in as an extremely enthusiastic Gilderoy Lockheart.

Hermione pretends to think this is extremely childish, but somehow ends up laughing anyway. Then she'll chide and scold and put the book away, bringing everyone's attention to an essay due on friday -- Ron still refusing to drop the accent, Harry suddenly looking extremely sheepish. He always looks sheepish regarding schoolwork, as if he's embarassed by the idea of it. Ron used to be even worse than Harry - he'd actually blush when Hermione reminded him. Now he just teases and scribbles, as if making sure every other word is hopelessly wrong. Hermione can't be sure whether she likes or hates this. Secretly she hates correcting, but uthe smell of Ron's hair when she leans over his shoulder to do the corrections is actually quite likeable. It's not really a soapy smell -- it's not much of anything. It's just Ron: like orange, like the funny way he has of dotting his i, or of reading the Bailamo.

Hermione doesn't know this, but Ron has spent hours staring at the corrections on his papers, attempting to copy her handwriting. He's gotten so close that sometimes he forgets which letters are his and which are hers. The trick to this is that in order to be successful, he has to be quick, and he has to think of the way her voice sounded as she read the corrections aloud.

Ron doesn't know this, but Hermione reads the Bailamo nearly every night, secretly enamoured with thei dea of it. She reads every step until she's fairly certain she could do it in her sleep. She even imagines herself doing it -- preparing all the ingredients and saying the word, grinning like a shark. She imagines she'd say it like a command; like something Ron would never be able to resist.

FIRST STEP. You must dry six roses until they are dark in colour. You must grind them into dust.

Harry's mouth, sharp like a thistle, when he means to say something urgent. Then softening, pink, to apologise. Glinting and brash with Ron. Quiet and firm with Hermione. It's as if he's learned different vocabularies for both of them. It's as if, with Ginny, he's reverted back to a native language.

There are so many complications to Harry, inside and out, that Ron is almost a relief. At least with Ron you'll always have the same Ron - he'll always be crude and boyish and sort of dull. He'll always just be Ron, and whatever he says to you would be just what he'd say to anyone else, because Ron never learned about tact. He slowly forgot how to bite his tongue as he grew older, and now he just stares bright-eyed when he succeeds in dropping jaws. He loves attention, Hermione's noticed -- and when he gets it he'll repeat the same story over and over again, as if hoping it'll get more interesting, or in the very least easier to understand.

Harry walks as if his shoulders are weighed forward, slightly hunched, tense -- as if waiting for something. He lets his hands into his pockets or crosses his arms: always defensive, always wary.

Ron walks tall, though not exactly with confidence - more with a sort of apprehension, as if something interesting is about to happen and he wants very much to see. Usually he swaggers a bit, clumsy and awkward in his too big body, movement a constant struggle to keep from bumping into things. He's gotten better over the years; in a way he's learned that there's no way to be unobtrusive with carrot-coloured hair. His hands are always curled loosely into passive fists, usually moving to touch things, to sort them out. Ron can't walk through a room without running his fingers over something -- and he's got marks for it, too, which he likes to show Hermione almost daily.

"I've already got scars from a brain attack, 'Mione. I don't really want to study."

Harry's expression, sincere while serious -- until he smiles, when everything lights up simultaneously. He's still modest even at his best. He can't keep the shyness out of his face, especially when he knows you're watching. This is the Harry that Hermione knows, Harry without tabloids or trouble or fear. The best Harry is the one with Ron, who laughs and wrinkles his nose and acts as if he hasn't got a care in the world.

Ron himself looks always as if quietly amused: mouth up at the corners, everything poised to begin laughing... and then, when he does laugh: shocks of porcelain, his eyes squinting merrily, until Hermione can't keep from laughing along.

SECOND STEP. You must heat water. You must sprinkle all of the rose dust in while stirring counter clockwise. You may add sugar, but sparingly.

Hermione thinks Ron would be perfect if he were a little less like Ron. If he didn't have the tendency to fly off the handle at the smallest annoyance, if he wasn't prone to inexplicable bouts of laughter, if he wasn't a perfect git -- then he'd be absolutely dreamy. But then again, Hermione isn't sure what Ron would be if he lost any of those things -- would he be more like a Harry? She isn't so sure the world is ready for another Harry. And... if he were absolutely dreamy, that would mean other girls would begin to notice him. Even more than before.

Thinking about all of this, Hermione begins to feel a bit ashamed. Lavender hadn't had a problem with Ron's childishness, and if he'd had a temper with her she certainly hadn't let it under her skin. It would feel much worse if Hermione weren't certain they had been very sparing in conversation. Maybe Lavender just hadn't gotten deep enough to see how perfectly impossible Ron truly was. This gives her a feeling of triumph -- as if by knowing him better than anyone else, that makes him hers indefinitely.

But do I honestly want someone that will argue with me over everything, down to the pattern of my cardigan?

Do I honestly want someone who will laugh at the things I find very serious, and be extremely serious over things I find utterly ridiculous?

When Hermione and Ron get into spats, Harry pulls back and watches. It's always the same: he leans back in his chair, or takes a step away as they storm down the hall, or simply stands and stares fondly. His face is always expressionless, but his eyes dance like sparks, taking all of it in -- Hermione is always aware of this, and that's why most of her most heated arguments with Ron take place when Harry isn't watching, because somehow arguing seems more intimate than that. Ron is always too focused to realise what's happening, and that's why he always looks so remarkably stupid when he's cross. It's because he has no idea he's being remarkably stupid. It's never occurred to Hermione to wonder why Harry always looks so affectionate and knowing when he watches -- she's always marked this down as simple nosiness, and deems it one of Harry's least redeeming qualities.

But they're not always arguing. There are moments when Ron is absolutely dreamy even with all of his faults -- Hermione likes these best, because somehow she feels she did something right.

One day, they're lying in the Common Room -- lying, because both of the couches are free, and because everyone else is at Hogsmeade. Ron is staring across the table at her, curled merrily in on himself, and for one reason or the other neither of them feels much like talking. This is a perfect miracle, because it seems that usually they're always trying to make points about everything; and for the first time, Hermione doesn't think it's awkward. She has absolutely no desire to break the silence. She presses herself down into the cushions until she's adopted Ron's pose: hands fastened at shoulders, knees drawn up. She presses herself down until she can barely see him, and then she closes her eyes.

"I don't think I like being at Hogwarts this year," Ron drawls, muffled.

"Why?"

"I feel there's something else we should be doing -- but I can't figure out what that is."

"Harry shouldn't be here. That's all that I feel."

They move to look at eachother then, and Hermione remembers what it felt like to cry on his shoulder; he couldn't keep his hand out of her hair, and his free arm had curled around her so protectively that if it hadn't been Dumbledore's funeral she might have cried for a different reason altogether. Sometimes she wonders where that affection went, because right after the ceremony he turned back into the old Ron again -- avoiding touching her at all costs -- but for one reason or another, she doesn't mind as much. It's nice to remember what it was like to have, even for a moment, the thing she'd always wondered at having.

Ron clears his throat now, shifting position. "Well, I'm going wherever Harry goes."

"Me too."

Hermione likes the sun in his hair. She likes it because it makes her think of Gryffindor colors, and sometimes, even more than Harry, she thinks Ron could be the ideal Gryffindor. In the past this might have made her jealous, but then again sometimes Hermione doesn't feel very much like she belongs in the house at all; at least with Ron, there's no way he'd fit anywhere else.

His eyes are the color of a lion's when the sun hits them -- usually they're just hazel, but there, when he moves his face into that bit of light...

"Mione'?"

"Yes?"

"Do you always feel that way?"

STEP THREE. You must pour the mixture into another bowl, and mix in the dye(s) of your choice. Yellow is for happiness, red for passion, blue for understanding, green for protection and purple for faithfulness. Too much of one dye will result in varying things -- it depends upon the exact amount -- and a mixture of all five is ideal for the ideal use of Bailamo. It must be kept in mind that this is not a potion for the permanent and radical changing of a person; it's only to help them a little. It is, after all, quite simple.

Ron's favorite color is orange. Hermione always relates this as being halfway between happiness and passion -- whatever that could mean. Her own favorite color is purple, so she suspects that means she's ever-faithful... and while this is respectable, she almost wishes she could be passionate instead. Harry's favorite color is probably blue, but she's never thought to ask. If she could assign him one, it would be green, because Harry needs protection most of all.

One thing she's always wondered over is what color would come out if she mixed everything --- brown, probably, but brown is completely unromantic. What would brown stand for, anyway? Brown isn't even attractive. It's plain and useful and reliable. Hermione has loads of clothing in brown. She finds it almost repulsive that Ron can't seem to stray from brighter colors. If she were more like Lavender, she might try dressing him herself. As it is, Ron's clashing is another one of the things he sometimes manages to be perfectly dreamy in spite of -- she has to respect that. Anyway, he wouldn't look quite right in purples and blues. It would be like denying his character.

He has got a scarf with every color in it, though -- it's Hermione's favorite. She's too shy to insist upon his wearing it, but she will casually take it out and look at it once in a while, just so he remembers he's got it. Unfortunately, the scarf could very nearly be called rainbow, and Ron is firmly opposed against rainbows. He's perfectly fine with dressing like a firebrand, but he's got to draw the line somewhere. Ginny says this is being picky, but then again, when has Ron ever listened to Ginny?

It's winter one day. Harry is too busy to go out -- he says this with a sort of smirk, as if he knows an awfully good secret -- but he seemingly can't stand the idea of company, because he absolutely insists that Ron and Hermione go out and enjoy the weather. Ron is perfectly fine with this, but Hermione can't help feeling a little worried. Harry absolutely hates studying, and even more so studying on his own; but even if she's usually stubborn, she thinks she might enjoy a bit of fresh air. Anyway, it's best not to leave Ron unattended. He tends to go a bit loopy when he's on his own -- always determined to entertain himself.

They're walking slowly, keeping their eyes steady on the group of Ravenclaws ahead on the path (Ron thinks they're up to something), when Hermione realises he's wearing his scarf. She opens her mouth to comment, but is interrupted by a sudden shock of cold in her ear -- a snowball and a hard one, something that immediately puts tears in her eyes. Its one thing to be cold like needles, and another thing to hurt like them, too. She has to blink to get the crystals out of her eyes. "Ron, I can't see-"

It isn't hard to guess who threw it. Crabbe and Goyle have been extremely bored without Draco, and being both extremely bored and utterly stupid can lead a person to bad things.

It's only a matter of moments, though, before Ron's trudged out into the banks of snow, fists clenched -- and then Crabbe wails, and there's the noise of fists, and Hermione watches Goyle and Ron sink into the white before Crabbe lifts his foot and

She's got her wand out, and she says some spell -- she has no idea which -- but it's mostly too late to stop the boot from colliding with Ron's head, which only drives her to scream the spell again, this time sounding not like herself at all. She sounds as if she's got no breath at all. The thing that bursts out of the wand is so much it flings her backward, bracing her left leg against the stones. It even makes Crabbe squeal and curl in on himself, sprouting spider legs from his forehead. Goyle is black and blue when he rises from the drift, brushing the snow out of his hair and robes. Ron doesn't get up.

At the hospital wing, Hermione is frantic to know if he's all right -- and of course he is, he's only been bruised. Pomfrey is disappointed in them for fighting, but she's a bit harsher with Crabbe and Goyle... especially Crabbe. It's been a long time since was in the wing for being kicked in the head. Ron insists that its the worst pain he's ever been in besides breaking his leg. Hermione has to laugh, because usually he says the same thing about the brain scars.

"Harry seems to be taking his time getting down here," Ron complains, leaning back into the pillows. For all his complaining, he does seem to enjoy the attention. As he closes his eyes, she's reminded sharply of the colors. She realises that the bruise is nearly all of them.

"He's busy," She says, sounding a little too breathless.

Ron opens his eyes at that. He furrows his brow, looking indignant. "I just got Crabbe's heel ground into my eye. He can't be too busy."

"Well, he is," Hermione snaps, a bit too quickly.

It's true that she'd rather be alone with Ron, but she doesn't want him to know that. Somehow, though, she gets the feeling he does. Ron knows only the minimum of his subjects in school, and he hasn't had a good history of being sensitive, but for one reason or another, he always guesses right when it comes to the way Hermione feels. Time and time again he makes suggestions that completely mirror her own feelings -- the suggestions she'd never voice, simply because out loud they sound stupid -- and she can't decide if this is because he can read her mind, or because they really are more alike than they realise.

"I'm going to send another message," Ron says firmly, getting out the quill again. "I'll send Pig to peck at him."

Hermione stares blankly for a moment, shaking her head. "Harry can't be bothered by Pig; the owl adores him. Pecking doesn't even happen."

"How stupid."

"You're stupid."

"No, you are."

STEP FOUR. With all the dye added, the mixture should look nearly glutinous. Stir clockwise for five minutes. Keep chilled.

Ron likes being injured. One of his favorite topics is listing injuries -- he asks Seamus, who mostly only talks about nicks he got while playing football, and for Dean it's mostly the same. Ron seems to enjoy the idea that he's been in more pain than anyone else he knows besides Harry. Sometimes he even takes his little game a step further and begins asking girls -- most of which shy away at this, not liking to admit that they've never really hurt. It's a funny sort of pride, Hermione thinks. She doesn't mind telling Ron over and over again that not much has happened to her -- and at any rate, he knows about all of her injuries already, simply because he was there when most of them occurred.

The worst scar she's got is from falling down the fence when she was seven -- she managed to snag on a nail, and scratched her ribs terribly. Every now and again she runs her fingers over the line in the shower, thinking of what it was like; a strange feeling, the pain delayed. It had taken all of the run back home to realise she was bleeding at all. Ron often talks about how he didn't even realise his leg was broken until he tried to crawl away and couldn't -- which is surprising to Hermione, because she can remember the noise of it breaking almost as well as what his face looked like, being dragged backward under those roots.

Ron is fascinated by her scar. The first time she shows it to him -- and she only does because he insists -- he stares at it for a moment, the raw length of it, and even makes a move as if to touch it. It's at that point that he realises it's Hermione's scar, and recoils. She doesn't understand why it's so fascinating until she remembers how far she has to lift her shirt in order for him to see all of it, and promptly covers herself back up again. Ron is a boy, after all -- he might be her friend, and he might be dreadfully behind when it comes to girls and sensitivity, but he's still a boy. In spite of this, it gives her an odd sort of satisfaction to know that he was staring at some part of her body, even if she is too modest to imagine he liked it.

Hermione doesn't know this, but Ron thinks about her scar often simply because of the way he could almost see the fabric of her underclothing -- and that little bump where her ribs began, armor for lungs. He is a boy, after all. He's just as modest as she is in many ways, but he can't help it if her body moves a certain way, or if he can't keep his eyes off the small of her back.

"That's an ugly one," he murmurs, sounding a bit flustered.

Hermione stares awkwardly, smoothing her shirt. "Yes, I... It bled quite a bit, as you can imagine. Mum was horrified."

"My mum isn't horrified by anything anymore."

"I can't imagine who would be, after raising Fred and George."

They stare at eachother for a moment. He's gaping -- but in a gentle sort of way, eyes half-open, lips half-open. Everything is half-open, from the way he's holding his arms to the way his chin tilts sideways. He looks as if he's about to change drastically, as if he's frozen himself in between two different moments -- and for one reason or another, Hermione feels as though it's something she shouldn't be seeing. Something private. It's a part of Ron that's too gentle; it's so gentle, it's as if he's forgotten himself. Ron isn't gentle. He's never been gentle, and... She's never noticed him looking at her this way. It's undefinable, so she shies away, unsure. She studies her hands instead, playing them open and closed on her lap. When she glances back up, he's still watching her; but he looks less gentle now, and definitely more mischievious. This is something she knows well, so she can smile; and when she does, Ron clears his throat and gets up to leave.

Hermione stands as well, mocking the way his shoulders roll back when he straightens his knees -- and almost smirks until she realises he isn't smirking at all. He isn't even close to a smirk. He's watching her, but not in the shy way Harry would watch, and not exactly in his own way either -- not as if he's about to play a trick.

Is he going to

But he doesn't. He doesn't lean in to kiss her, and he doesn't admit he loves her, and all in all it's very disappointing. Hermione nearly pouts when he turns to gather his things off of the table. It isn't until now that she realises Harry has been watching the entire time, holding his tongue -- and she shoots him a look that might have been poison except for the softness, because now she understands why he's always got to study them. Ron is awkwardly straightening his papers, mumbling about McGonagall. She wants to shake him and beg him to look at her that way again.

Instead she blushes, handing him a quill.

STEP FIVE. The trick to this potion is that in order to get the person to drink it, you must be in love with them. In order to improve someone else, you must be pure of intention. Take the mixture and put it into a goblet. It's digusting, but if you only say the word, your lover will be compelled to drink.

The thing about Ron is that, even if he's picky about colors, he isn't picky about food. He'll eat almost anything when it comes down to it, and will often finish Harry and Hermione's plates with zeal. Part of this is because he hates wasting things, and part of this is because he just loves eating. Were it not for a quick metabolism, he might have been like Crabbe or Goyle -- but as it is, Ron doesn't look as if he eats very much at all, and his mother loves pointing this out. They've got an interesting relationship. Ron pretends to hate being babied, but accepts almost everything she pushes at him. Even the sweaters, which have gotten uglier and uglier over the years. Hermione watches him open Christmas packages with a smile that might have betrayed her heart, were it not for the fact that Ron is too full of the 'yuletide spirit' to really notice. He's taken to flinging paper at her, and does so with a peal of laughter nearly too big for the occasion. Seamus and Dean keep turning to look at him, expecting to see something interesting -- and when they realise it's just Ron laughing again, they sigh and turn away, mumbling about lunacy.

Harry is humble about everything. He takes his Weasley sweater and folds it carefully, hiding it in the box beneath his bed. It's been proven over the years that even though he is capable of affording much better things, he settles for what Ron has instead. He seems to like things better when they're just as worn around the edges as he is. Hermione thinks this is perfectly endearing, but still spends most of her money trying to buy things that are nicer for Harry. For Ron, she's much more sparing -- she doesn't want to embarass him. Ron has a thing about money; he likes the idea of having it, and even seems to admire those who do, but whenever he's offered something of a more expensive nature he turns it down, thinking of it as charity. Hermione's had arguments with him over this -- amd it's the only issue she's grown tired of spatting over. She knows he'd like things like chess boards and fancy broom equipment, but never from her.

This year, though, the haul has been satisfying. Harry slinks away with Seamus and Dean to go play exploding snap in the common room, leaving Ron to pore over a new strategy book Bill sent; and Hermione suddenly feels very out of place, curled as she is on the carpet. Paper has gotten into her hair, and she devotes herself to picking it out instead of attempting conversation. This is all very well until Ron remembers she's there and puts down his book.

"Don't ignore me on Christmas," he whines.

"I'm not ignoring you," Hermione says, glaring. "You were busy."

"Was not."

"Yes, you were. You were reading. You always tell me to shut up when you're reading, because apparently your Quidditch strategy is that much more important than your studies."

"That's right."

"So you were busy, and I wasn't ignoring you."

Ron stares for a moment, unsure of what to say -- and promptly slams the book against the bedside table. "Yes, you were. It'd be different if we weren't alone, but..."

Alone.

Hermione glances sheepishly down at her knuckles again, suddenly thinking that she would like very much to go out and see how the game is going. She imagines that Harry must be winning; he's always been good with exploding snap. Even if it is barbaric and stupid.

She doesn't want to look up and see Ron looking at her that way again, even if the memory of his soft eyes is the one she goes over most when reading the Bailamo. She doesn't want to think about how it makes her feel when she knows he's thinking about her scar. She doesn't want to remember the Ron without defenses that she saw, because that's a Ron she's never met before. Hermione is terrible with strangers. She doesn't know how to talk to them at all. All she can do is stare and offer her name and smile in that sheepish way.

The way she smiles now, when she hears the creak of the bedsprings and knows that Ron is kneeling on the carpet next to her.

Suddenly she remembers the six roses in her bedside drawer and begins to blush. Next to the containers of dye, they were very likeable indeed.