A Bad Night For Romance All Round?
Hermione saw Lavender staring and realised the implications a good two seconds before anyone else. How could she not? Her Lavender radar had become so finely attuned over the last few months that she could tell if the girl was about to round a corner twenty paces away. Hermione's reflexes had also improved so much that she was seriously thinking of taking up Quidditch. She could now throw her book down, bury her head under the covers and fake sleep in the time it took for Lavender and Parvati to open the door of the sixth year bedroom. Although it would have been easier to rely on the early warning system of their shrill voices at the bottom of the stairs, Hermione had been forced to take to wearing earplugs to drown out the incessant "Won-Wons" – so radar was all she had.
Make that a good three seconds before Ron, who finally twigged just as Lavender's first shrieks began to fill the crowded common room. Hermione felt the air move as Harry sped up and made for the portrait hole. Ginny was just coming through and Hermione saw her turn her head angrily as Dean emerged behind her.
"Don't push me, please, Dean!"
But he hadn't been anywhere near …Oh!
A sudden realization jolted Hermione like a punch in the stomach. That Felix Felicis was sneaky.
Dean wasn't letting Ginny get away with it and was yelling back. That took some guts – but who could really blame him? Ginny had been picking at him for weeks. Bloody Weasleys! thought Hermione, rebelliously. As she gazed unseeingly at Lavender yelling at Ron, a second realization hit her – but what if –
Hermione edged away towards the armchairs in front of the fire. Ron turned his head a fraction and raised his eyebrows in mute appeal. A flash of anger twisted her insides. She shook her head and continued to back away. Ron shrugged and walked over to the other side of the room. As he faced Lavender, who was now purple to match her robes, Hermione could see Ron frowning and looking at the ground, in a stance that Hermione privately termed his I look like I'm listening, but I'm really not pose. She wondered if it annoyed Lavender as much as it did Mrs Weasley.
Hermione found a seat and sank into it. She realised she was trembling. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, attempting to dampen the sparks in her brain that were firing off in all directions. Don't get carried away. Nothing to do with you. See what happens when you hope – addles the brain. After scolding herself firmly in this vein for a few minutes, Hermione felt somewhat calmer. If only she had her earplugs and could block out Lavender's howls of rage, she'd be perfectly fine. Strange, she couldn't hear anything from Ron, not even another feeble splutter … Ginny and Dean's argument seemed to be winding down …
Opening her eyes, Hermione found herself looking straight at Neville sitting in the next armchair. He held her gaze for a second or two with an unreadable expression on his round face before returning to his book. Hermione felt vaguely guilty. Stupid. She had no idea if Neville still liked her that way – or if he ever had. She brushed away the thought impatiently. She knew he'd be too polite to say anything.
Ginny moved into her line of vision and collapsed in front of the fire. "Where's Dean?" Hermione asked.
"Gone on up. I finished it. Finally. I feel lower than a Flobberworm."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Would you mind?" Ginny glanced over Hermione's shoulder, as the noise level in the common room suddenly decreased. Lavender was disappearing up the stairs to the girls' dormitory in a whirl of flying robes. Hermione could feel someone standing behind her chair. A big, clumsy hand, covered in little white scars, appeared on the back of it. Hermione could see it out of the corner of her eye, a bit too close to her neck for comfort. She jerked her head away and pushed herself into the corner of the armchair. Oh, this was ridiculous. Time for action. Find some guts, Granger, she told herself. Ginny looked back at her, then, pointedly, at the hand. Hermione strove to appear unconcerned, fidgeting with a hair clip that had sprung open. "On second thoughts, Hermione, don't worry about it. It can wait."
Neville looked up from his book again. "We could – er – play a game of Exploding Snap – if you like, Ginny. I'm not busy." Ginny looked at him, gratefully.
"Thanks Neville. I'd like that."
Hermione turned round. "OK, Ron?" she asked, gently. He looked taken aback.
"Um, yeah – fine thanks. And – er – sorry."
"Sorry for what exactly?"
"For – er – subjecting you to all that."
"Oh. All that." Hermione looked at him, meaningfully. Slowly, Ron blushed to the roots of his hair. The combination was horrible. She took pity on him.
"Do you want to get out of here?"
"God, yeah. But where? We could go upstairs again – Harry won't be back for ages."
"Ron, you really are the most insensitive …" Hermione took a breath. "No, I think my reputation needs some time to recover. Besides, Dean's up there. I've got a better idea. Come on."
Ron stared blankly at the stretch of wall. "The Room of Requirement – are you sure? Isn't it for more – y'know – important occasions?"
"Well, I don't see why. If Dumbledore can use it as …" Hermione trailed off, feeling less sure about her hastily-formed plan all of a sudden. Was she about to make an even bigger fool of herself? Although, she reflected, that probably wasn't actually possible, given her track record this year. And if she was right – if this was meant to be lucky for Harry – then being afraid was just illogical. "Anyway," she said briskly, "It's worth a try. Just focus."
"Er – what am I meant to be focusing on, by the way?"
"Oh, for heaven's sake Ron. You were the one who wanted to get out of the common room. Use your brain!"
Hermione walked up and down along the blank stretch of wall between the window and the man-sized vase, whispering under her breath. We need somewhere to be alone …somewhere that's just us … we need to not be interrupted …The wall was still blank. Next to her, Ron hadn't moved. Hermione tutted. "Don't try and second-guess me, you idiot. It doesn't work when you do that, remember? Just get on with it."
"OK, OK – keep your hair on!" Ron screwed his eyes shut and paced away and then back towards her along the corridor. On his third turn, Hermione saw the door emerge, as though it had been lurking in the depths of the wall all along and was simply bobbing to the surface. They looked at each other nervously. Hermione reached out, turned the handle and pushed the door slowly open.
"It's – it's like …I dunno …" Ron looked around uncertainly. Hermione knew how he felt. The room seemed strangely familiar – it reminded her of her long-abandoned bedroom at her parent's house. But that room was in a modern house and was tidy – and empty – and lonely. This room was furnished unlike any house she'd been in before. It was crowded with furniture – a low table, lamps, a big log basket next to a fireplace with a big, black mantel and a pretty tiled surround. In front of it were two squashy armchairs and a thick, brightly-coloured rug. The walls were lined with the same wooden bookshelves as when they'd come here for DA practice last year. All but one was packed to overflowing. More books lay scattered over the floor. Ron walked over to a bookcase in the shadows in the corner of the room. "What's all this stuff here? Look, Hermione, this is the nicest chess set I've ever seen!"
"I – I think it's just meant to make us feel comfortable …"
"Well it works for me. It's a bit like home – only not. Go on then, Hermione, hurry up and make us a fire." Ron flung himself into one of the armchairs and stretched luxuriously. "Ah. This is the life."
"Ron?" Hermione said the charm to ignite the fire and sat down in the other chair. "I know it's been a strange evening and it is lovely in here but … I don't think this will work more than once … and now we're here – we ought to make the most of it."
Ron sat up. He looked a little scared. "You're not going to have a go at me about anything, are you?" Hermione sighed.
"No. But I want you to tell me what you were thinking about when we were outside."
"No. Not me first. Please, Ron."
Ron didn't answer. Instead, he got to his feet and went over to where Hermione was sitting. She met his gaze, challengingly. Ron nodded slightly and walked round to the back of Hermione's chair. He stood there for a moment, his hands either side of Hermione's head. Her neck prickled and she fought to keep still. Ron gently lifted her hairclip out of a tangle, where it had sprung open again. He parted a section of hair, smoothed it back and clumsily refastened the clip. As he moved away, his hand brushed her neck, and Hermione trembled.
"I need to be where Hermione is …that's what I thought."
Hermione felt frozen to the chair. She bowed her head and tried to slow her breathing.
"Now, it's your turn."
Hermione looked up in surprise. Ron's voice hadn't cracked like that in two years. His ears were redder than she'd ever seen them. His big hand, with its network of tiny scars, reached down to grab hers. She allowed herself to be pulled to her feet. This was fine. Ron had held her hand before, loads of times, hadn't he? Or touched it anyway – in passing …but no … he'd never circled his arm round her waist before. Never pulled her towards him like that …
Hermione opened her mouth to speak. She was so close that she had to tilt her head to look Ron in the eye. Both arms were now holding her tightly, almost lifting her off her feet. Too close … the words wouldn't come out … why was her breathing so funny … his mouth … right there. As his lips touched hers, the last flutters of panic died away – it was going to be all right – she could stop thinking and just … be …
Oh, no, there was a … question …wasn't there? Something she was supposed to answer…that was it … Hermione broke away, momentarily. "Ron … ah … the same, more or less …"
Ron pressed his mouth back down onto hers. "Shut up, Hermione," he mumbled. For once, she was happy to comply.