Author's Notes: As promised, here is the rest of my challenge fic. Read the A/N for Part I for more background on that. :-P
This part starts with Hermione preparing to read to Ron (who is still unconscious) from "Hogwarts: A History." Thanks to all who reviewed and for patiently waiting for the conclusion.
Disclaimer: The characters in this fanfic are the property of J.K. Rowling – God bless her for not suing any of us for writing about them. Thank you, John Deacon (of the band Queen) for the title and to Fyrechild for the beta read and your input on the ending. :-)
You're My Best Friend – Part II
Although there were now long ribbons of sunlight streaming in through the windows, they didn't make it nearly light enough for her to read by. So Hermione charmed the candle on Ron's bedside table to glow a smidgen or two brighter. The lighting now sufficient, she ran her hands lovingly over the well-worn cover of Hogwarts: A History and then opened it with care.
Adjusting its weight in her lap, she turned to the first page with writing on it, cleared her throat, and read aloud about the humble beginnings of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy. The book outlined, in meticulous detail, the ingenious design of the castle, how it remained hidden from prying muggle eyes, and the purpose for each quirk and oddity found within it.
One by one, the text introduced each of the four founders. It explained why they believed establishing a school for young witches and wizards was an absolute necessity. It also described the qualities each of the founders sought in his or her students, for in the beginning, only those students who were handpicked by one of them were to be trained personally by the one who chose them. These students were sorted into one of four houses; once named a Gryffindor, a Ravenclaw, a Slytherin, or a Hufflepuff, he or she wore the house name with pride.
But as the student body grew, Hermione read on, this arrangement was no longer practical. Eventually, more staff members were added. After years of operating as individual houses and training in separate parts of the expansive castle, with its changing floorplan, shifting staircases, and enchanted ceilings, it was decided that all students who exhibited magical abilities – the purebloods, the halfbloods, and the muggleborns – should learn together, in cooperation. After all, Helga Hufflepuff contended, they had much to teach each another. They would still be sorted into the individual houses for their living quarters (Godric had insisted on that), but they would come together for classes, meals, and school functions.
Hermione heaved a tired sigh and licked her lips. The effects of not having had her morning tea by now, or even a fresh glass of water, were starting to show. She glanced around the room and sniffed the air, curious if Madam Pomfrey might have prepared some tea and wondering how she might garner herself a cuppa. But she was fairly certain that the Healer hadn't even woken up yet; her quarters were far too quiet.
She returned her attention to the tome in her lap. Even though this was all rather rudimentary, she went on with as much enthusiasm as she could muster before seven in the morning. "After much debate on who should be allowed to enter Hogwarts and how this new 'interhouse' learning would be conducted, the school's four founders seemed to be approaching an agreement. However, it was not entirely without hard feelings between Salazar Slytherin and the other thr—"
Hermione's eyes started to cross once more. Oddly, she was having a hard time staying focused on the material; she normally found this section incredibly fascinating. Still, she pressed on, telling her unconscious friend why Slytherin finally left the school. The magical training of anyone less than pureblood wizard or witch, said he, was an abomination to the name 'wizard'.
Slytherin's harsh words, and his eventual departure, created an even deeper rift between his house and the others. Some of his students even left with him. But there were enough who remained at Hogwarts that Rowena, Helga, and Godric decided not to absorb those students into the other houses. They also agreed to keep the name "Slytherin House" for all that Salazar had done for the school.
In Hermione's opinion, the legendary argument and the ensuing split between the founders were among the most exciting parts of the whole book. Just reading it again brought an involuntary smile to her face, and without really giving it much thought, she reached out for Ron's hand and placed hers over it. She stroked it absently with her thumb as she read. He flinched slightly, but instead of pulling away, he relaxed; his subtle reaction surprised her so much that she paused in mid-sentence. She blushed and squeezed his warm, lightly-calloused hand.
Intrigued, she turned it over and looked at his palm as if she was seeing it for the first time. Then she slowly turned it to the other way and examined the back of it as she wondered silently, When had they grown so manly? She had never really noticed Ron's hands before, the details in them: their light freckles, the golden hairs on the back, the small dents worn into the sides of his fingers from seemingly endless hours of Quidditch practice. They were so different from her own smaller, softer hands – even his fingernails were a bit longer than hers, if not quite as clean. As she was studying them, he inhaled deeply and mumbled something unintelligible that vaguely sounded like a name . . her name.
What! she thought sharply as her hand flew to her open mouth. Oh, God. Does he know I'm here? I mean, if he were to wake up, that would be great, but I don't what I'd . . . would he see the way I—
She coughed once in nervous anticipation. "Yes, Ronald," she said, her throat dry, her heart thumping loudly in her chest. "It's me. Hermione."
But to her disappointment, Ron didn't move, much less reply. Never taking her eyes off him, she carefully closed the book and grasped it firmly with her right hand. She leaned down to set it on the floor beside her and sighed in resignation.
Her logical side tried to piece together what had just happened. He did say her name – she was certain of that – so at least, subconsciously, he was aware of her presence. Or maybe he was thinking about her just then . .
"Well, at least you're not thinking of her, are you, 'Won-Won'?" she scoffed. She rolled her eyes and suppressed a grin at the ridiculous pet names her roommate had come up with. Honestly, it was all rather comical. She snickered and murmured, "Won-Won; how widiculous it that?"
Thinking a hint of a smile had crossed his lips, she had to look twice to be sure she'd seen what she thought she had.
The early morning light that spilled in through the windows gave the room an ethereal glow. Hermione gazed at Ron's face. He looked so peaceful just now. She raised her hand and lightly touched his copper hair. Just the fringe – the part that nearly reached his eyebrows. She sighed to herself; it was as soft as it looked. "I'm here, Ron," she whispered.
Hermione wondered briefly what would happen if Lavender Brown herself were to come storming in here at this inopportune time. The two girls' relationship had always been tenuous at best, and this year, it had only gotten worse. Let her come, I don't care! Ronald and I are just friends, anyway, she thought, ignoring the painful tug at her heart.
"Besides, if he really wanted a girlfriend who cared for him, and looked after him, saw him as a real person and not just someone to hang all over and give stupid gifts to and snog—"
Her eyes teared up a bit as she blushed. Had she spoken that last part out loud? She wasn't sure. As if the last several minutes had only been something she had dreamed, she snapped out of it. Once more, she was 'all business'.
"No," she said firmly as she picked up her book, "I'm going to read to you, whether you like it or not, Ronald Weasley. I need to leave soon, or it'll be too late to get anything resembling breakfast – and I don't want to have to pester Dobby for something later on." As she said this, she flipped the page to where she had stopped before. Just before she'd touched his hand.
She tried to continue with her project, but her heart wasn't in it anymore. How could it be, when her mind was so distracted?
Knowing he couldn't hear her anyway, Hermione asked aloud, "Ron, how could you actually think of dating Lavender? You've never even liked her! Remember how we used to joke about her in Divination class?" Pausing only a moment, she continued to tell him off in a low voice.
"Besides, how could you go out with that stupid cow, when you've bloody well known since fourth year that . . " She paused as a tear rolled down her cheek. "I would have gone with you to the Yule Ball. I was only waiting for you to ask me. I'd have said yes.
"What about all we've been through together – the prefect meetings we've been to, supporting Harry in everything, our time at Grimmauld Place, before Harry got there . . where were you? Wasn't it obvious? Do I have to hit you on the head with an anvil?"
She asked him wryly, "Or do I just have to say it?" She shrugged and laughed to herself. "All right, I guess I do . . I love you, Ronald Weasley. There. I've said it."
But her confession was met with stone silence.
"I know exactly what you've been up to, Ron . . always trying to push other boys away from me – first Viktor, and then conveniently guiding Harry to fall for Ginny, so he and I would never – as if I would ever date Harry! There's no . . spark between us. He's more like a brother to me."
So she was a girl, after all – even Ron had noticed that. True, it had taken him over three years to realize it; he was incredibly thick at times. Still, she enjoyed his company and the way he made her laugh, even when he was driving her barking mad with his Devil-may-care attitude about studying or taking his O.W.L.s or preparing for their Apparition lessons.
At least he took the Quidditch try-outs seriously, she thought mundanely.
Hermione checked her watch. It was getting dreadfully late. She reached out once more and squeezed Ron's hand. Getting no further response from him, she stowed her things with a wave of her wand then headed toward the Great Hall to grab a quick bite before her first class.
"See you, Ron."
He never knew she was there. She felt dejected but somehow vindicated – like she had done the right thing, even if he would never know it or remember her being there. She knew she had made a difference.
The oversized door to the hospital wing fell closed behind her with a hollow thud, causing Ron to stir. His head felt heavy and achy, and his throat felt like it had been rubbed raw with sandpaper. He croaked weakly, "Hrrminey?" When he managed to pry his eyes open, he surveyed the room as best he could through the blur.
But there was no one there.
"Thasss strange," he slurred, his voice and tongue refusing to cooperate. He rubbed his tired eyes and coughed to clear the frog that had recently established residence in his throat. Giving up on his voice returning anytime soon, he wondered silently, Did I just dream she was here?
"Welcome back, Mr. Weasley," Madam Pomfrey greeted him cheerily as she scuttled into view. "You gave us all quite a scare, young man. How are you feeling today?"
"Dunno," he answered, his voice still raspy.
"Oh, that doesn't sound good at all. Let me fix it up for you." She waved her wand and conjured an ice-cold glass of pumpkin juice, but Ron winced at the thought of having to try to swallow anything. She clicked her tongue then murmured, "Episkey Trachea!" When he didn't start drinking his juice right away, she urged, "Go on, your throat's fine now."
He drained the glass in no time, surprised to find that she was right; he did feel better. "Thanks. Could I please have some breakfast?" The healer clapped her hands, and a house-elf was there within moments holding a tray heaped with a variety of delicious breakfast items.
"Hope you're hungry, Mr. Weasley," the witch said with a smirk on her face. He nodded and tucked in straight away. "Well then, I'll go take care of some of my morning duties and then come back to check on you." But Ron barely noticed; he was ravenous, having been incapacitated for . .
What day is it, anyway? he wondered vaguely.
"Mumm-m Pmfffrey?" he gurgled through the food in his mouth. When she eyed him with mild disgust, he looked back at her sheepishly then swallowed his food. "Sorry – what day is it?"
"Have any of my friends been here?"
"Oh, yes – your entire family, Mr. Potter, Miss Brown, Miss Granger – she was here earlier this morning, but she had to leave for class."
"Miss . . Brown was?" Ron asked cautiously, not sure if he really wanted to know.
"No, Miss Granger."
His face lit up as he thought, So she was here! But . . why?
"Was Harry with her? Or my sister?" he asked, shoveling another spoonful of eggs into his mouth.
"No, I don't think so. Oh! That reminds me. I must contact your family; your mother and father have been absolutely sick with worry."
Not that he wanted them to worry, but somehow, knowing that they did warmed Ron's heart.
The healer stopped once more at the foot of his bed and wrote another note on his chart. "Is the food agreeing with you? Not making you feel funny, is it?" He shook his head then downed three more bites in quick succession, washing them down with his second glass of pumpkin juice. With a wave of her wand, she refilled it again then added a wry smile, "Please try not to eat so fast. I know you feel like you're starving, but we have been feeding you. Just call me when you're through, and I'll see to the clean-up."
Ron nodded mutely. I should be sick more often. She's never this nice to me.
That evening, Harry, Ginny, and Hermione were all sitting on Ron's hospital bed. He was in good spirits, and the others were happy to see him up and alert. The four of them were joking and laughing about the time Colin Creevey had jumped onto a staircase that was just about to change. He ended up on the wrong level at another side of the castle and was extremely late for Potions.
"The poor boy had detention for the next three days!" Ginny laughed. "It wasn't exactly fair, if you ask me."
Harry grinned and remarked, "What I've never understood is why those bloody staircases even have to change. What is the point in that?"
"We can thank Rowena Ravenclaw's wicked sense of humor for that. She was concerned what would happen if muggles somehow accidentally did get in, and she wanted to deter them from poking about. She figured a staircase changing under their feet would do the trick. It's in Hogwarts: A History."
Everyone fell absolutely silent. For it wasn't Hermione who had shared this bit of school trivia with them – but Ron.
Harry blinked and gave a slight chuckle of disbelief. "And how would you know that, Ron? You've never read so much as one word of it."
His friend stared back at him blankly, his mouth hanging open. "I-I don't know," he replied dumbly as he shrugged his shoulders. "I just do."
His dormmate shook his head in amazement. Ginny, who had been fighting the urge to burst out laughing at her brother, noticed that Hermione was acting rather odd. She nudged Harry and quietly pointed at her, but the older witch had turned away, pretending to glance around the room nonchalantly.
Ginny couldn't decide whether the girl was blushing or beaming; for some reason, she seemed determined to hide her expression from them. The fifth-year decided to let it go for now. She could ask her later on, in private.
At length, Hermione said, "Well, what does it matter how he knows it? The point is, he does. And I, for one, think it's positively great." She gave Ron a nervous smile that made him do a double-take. She didn't know exactly what was going through his mind, but she could venture a guess. And if he had heard her reading the book . . then what else had he heard? Her confession, perhaps?
She might never know.
Just then, Ron stretched and let out a long, loud yawn. "Guys, I'm getting a little tired. Come back tomorrow, eh?"
"Sure thing, Ron," Harry said, wearing a baffled look on his face. "Still don't know how you—"
Ginny rolled her eyes and patted Harry on the shoulder. "Forget it, Harry. Let's go. Good night, Ron." She hugged her brother and whispered something that no one else could hear. Whatever it was, it made him gawk at her and blush at the same time. The three of them started to head back for Gryffindor Tower.
"Hermione, err – wait a minute." Her heart nearly stopped at Ron's words. She looked at the others hesitantly, but he suggested that they go on without her. "It's just prefects business. Bloody dull." Harry, who was thrilled by Ron's suggestion, left with Ginny; as he did, the monster in his chest purred contentedly.
When Hermione turned back to Ron, his eyes narrowed slightly. He asked her accusingly, "What did you do to me?"
"Me! What are you talking about?" she replied indignantly.
"Madam Pomfrey told me you were here early this morning – and that they didn't come with you," he added, waving his arm toward the door that Harry and Ginny had just gone through. "And all of a sudden, I'm quoting Hogwarts: A History – a book I've done very well to avoid for over six years now. What happened?"
Annoyed, she decided it would be best to evade the actual issue. "What does it matter?"
"Well, I suppose it doesn't, really. But I want to know: what were you doing here, early in the morning, all by yourself?"
A light blush crept across her cheeks as she scoffed, "Do I need a reason to visit you, or an escort?" She paused. "I just came to see you on the off-chance you would wake up today."
Gazing into her eyes, he whispered ambiguously, "And I did."
There was a heavy silence between them that seemed to last for several minutes. He broke it by saying, "Well, even though I seemed to have missed it, I . . I appreciate your coming to visit me." Before he said the last few words, he cleared his throat and tightened his lips.
"You're welcome," she replied. "I should be going now, too." Hermione leaned forward and placed a quick kiss on his cheek. "Glad you're feeling better, Ron." She left him lying there, beside himself with confusion.
He touched his cheek lightly where she'd kissed it. Leaning back onto the bed, he sighed and thought, Yeah, I definitely need to break up with Lavender.
Notes: Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the fic. I tried to get the second part out as soon as I could without skimping on quality. A review would be most appreciated!