Title: Rubbish
Pairing: Ron/Hermione
Rating: PG
Word Count: 3,073
Spoilers: Set during Goblet of Fire
Summary: Rita Skeeter's first article on the Triwizard Tournament leaves Ron distressed, Hermione bewildered, and both of them particularly inclined to bicker.
Author's Note: I felt like this was necessary, because they are my #1 most beloved OTP in the history of ever, until the end of time, hallelujah amen, and I figured that deserved some kind of fanfic endeavor. GOD, BOOK SEVEN, STOP COMING SO CLOSE.

--

Ron sneaks a glance at Hermione. She looks normal. Hermioneish. It's not like she's suddenly, randomly transformed into the kind of girl who would – well, anyway. So maybe he's just imagined it, then.

He looks back down at the newspaper. And it turns out, the stupid paragraph is still there, in bloody black and white—

Harry has at last found love at Hogwarts. His close friend, Colin Creevey, says that Harry is rarely seen out of the company of one Hermione Granger, a stunningly pretty Muggle-born girl who, like Harry, is one of the top students in the school.

Ron gets that the article is complete rubbish, of course. Harry might be a gigantic self-centered lying prat who he has no interest in ever having anything to do with again unless he shapes up, but Ron's still pretty sure that he doesn't spend his nights crying himself to sleep over his dead parents. And they've got the same bedroom ten months out of the year, so he thinks he probably would've noticed.

Yup, rubbish – that's all it is. It's by that Rita Skeeter cow, after all, and he can't count the number of times he's heard Dad complain about all the stuff she makes up.

Not to mention the part where Colin Creevey's a right idiot.

So there it is, then.

He gets it.

For some reason, he still can't pull his eyes away from this bloody paragraph.

Harry is rarely seen out of the company of one Hermione Granger—

Ron glances up at her again. She's stopped reading, now; her (ridiculously gigantic) book is open in her lap, and she's dangling a bit of string for Crookshanks. The great stupid beast is going crazy over it, of course, and Hermione keeps giggling and mumbling mental stuff like "oh, you almost got it, didn't you!" and "you're a brilliant little kitty, aren't you? Yes you are!"

Well, of course Harry's rarely seen out of Hermione's company. They're best friends, aren't they? Up 'til this whole Triwizard mess Harry was rarely seen out of Ron's company, either, and that definitely didn't mean Harry had found love at Hogwarts. It's just because Hermione's a girl, and people are stupid, and they're always going to figure that just because you're friends with a girl, it means you've . . . found love at Hogwarts with her, or something stupid like that. Ron knows from experience, because he's had to deal with Fred and George and Ginny – and, on a couple of extra-humiliating occasions, Mum – for the past three years.

And even if they were boyfriend and girlfriend – which they aren't, because Rita Skeeter's off her rocker – it's not like Ron wouldn't have noticed by now, is it? He might be a little bit lacking in observation skills (or a lot lacking, if you ask Hermione), but even he would've picked up on that. It would be a bit hard to miss your two best friends snogging each other senseless twenty-four/seven.

Unless they were doing it in secret.

The thought makes him feel weird, like he's just accidentally ingested a bunch of cockroach cluster.

It'd be just like Harry, wouldn't it, though? To just start up some secret romance with Hermione and not even think to tell Ron about it?

But Hermione – she wouldn't – she doesn't care about dating and snogging and stuff! It'd interfere way too much with schoolwork. That's what Hermione would think. Even if it was Harry she was doing it with – Harry, who she's always seemed to like a lot, and who she doesn't nag nearly as much as Ron, and who she does spend a lot of time worrying about, and, well, it's probably hard to worry about someone without thinking about them, so he guesses a lot of time thinking about, too – well –

He glances furtively over at her again.

"Why do you keep doing that?" Hermione asks, a little impatiently.

Damn it.

"What?" he asks as innocently as he can.

She's not having any of it. "Looking at me like that."

"I'm not looking at you," Ron grumbles, going back to the paper.

"Yes, you are," Hermione insists.

"No, 'm not."

She sniffs. "Fine, then."

Just like her, to get all upset about not being stared at.

"Have you seen the Prophet yet today?" Ron asks, in an offhanded sort of way.

"No," Hermione responds, then frowns and reaches for it. "Is there something about Harry?"

"Back off!" Ron insists, maybe a little bit too heatedly, and swats her hand with it.

She narrows her eyes at him. "Honestly! What's got into you this morning?"

"Nothing!" Ron snaps back. "I didn't say I was done reading, did I?"

"I guess not," Hermione admits, her expression darkening; it doesn't take a genius to figure out that he's digging his own grave right now, especially when you stop to consider that he's got a Potions essay due in a couple of days that he really, really needs to be in her good graces to finish.

Still. She'll probably be too busy helping Harry.

"That's the problem, then," Ron mutters, rustling the newspaper indignantly.

Hermione makes a tutting noise under her breath, then goes back to her book. Crookshanks glares at Ron. Ron glares back. Ruddy stupid cat.

"What does it say?" Hermione asks all of a sudden.

He abandons his staring contest with Crookshanks and looks back up at her. "What?"

"The article," she prompts impatiently.

"Why?" he asks, a little suspiciously. She's acting bizarre. Realizing, maybe, that she and Harry have been found out. "Is there something you think it would say?"

She should have seen it coming, really. You can't just tromp around, making a spectacle of yourself secretly dating The Boy Who Lived, and not expect to get busted. It's all pretty sloppy, for Hermione. Isn't she supposed to be too smart for her own good about everything?

"A bunch of nonsense, I'd expect," Hermione says airily – right, like he's going to buy that – and frowns at him again. "Why are you being so weird?"

"I'm not," Ron shoots back. "Maybe you're being weird. Did you ever think of that, Hermione?"

He's half-hoping that this'll get her so cranky they'll wind up having another bickering match, thus getting her to forget about the stupid Prophet article altogether.

Instead, she just folds her arms and looks at him all knowingly. "It's got something about me in there, doesn't it?"

"No."

Hermione looks at him sternly.

". . . Maybe," he admits.

"Oh, let me see," she orders impatiently, and reaches over to snatch the paper out of his hand. This time, he just lets her have it. She might as well find out the truth the hard way.

He watches as her eyes scan back and forth, and finds himself filled with a nasty sort of anticipation. Serves her right, to have the truth exposed for the whole Wizarding world to read – especially if she's not going to bother to tell Ron about it first.

He's at least sixty percent sure that a look of panic's going to appear on her face any minute now.

Except it doesn't.

"Ha!" she says instead, lowering the paper. "You didn't believe this, did you?"

"What are you talking about?" he asks at once, and forces a quick laugh. "'Course not."

"Oh, this is ridiculous – if Harry and I were having a secret love affair, don't you think you would have noticed something?"

"Duh," he retorts. "I didn't buy any of that, by the way. I'm not an idiot."

The cockroach-cluster feeling fades away really fast at the incredulously amused look on her face. He tries not to think about this.

"—'stunningly pretty' – and Harry, one of the top students in the school?" Hermione scoffs at the newspaper. "Well, we seem to be in her good graces, don't we?"

"Yeah, that's what I thought," Ron agrees, and snorts. "All sounds like a load of rubbish to me."

"Of course," Hermione agrees matter-of-factly, and folds the newspaper up.

He figures out, a few seconds too late, that now it sounds like he's saying the stunningly pretty part was rubbish too, which seems sort of mean. Girls can be a bit wonky about their looks. He's learned that the hard way, growing up with Ginny.

His heart's pounding really hard all of a sudden, and he really doesn't want to say anything, but he sort of feels like he owes it to her. Doesn't mean he has a bloody clue how to go about it, though. Most of the time, he doesn't even really pay attention to the fact that Hermione's a girl in the first place. It would just make things weird.

He clears his throat and says, in a way that sounds a bit strangled and demented, "Not that you're not–"

But the thing is, she's not really stunningly pretty, or anything. She's Hermione. It's not like she looks bad – although when you stop to think about it, her hair's a touch scary. Not to mention her teeth, although for some weird reason, they look a little smaller from this particular angle. But anyway, it's not like any of that bugs him, or anything; it's not like with Eloise Midgen, where the sight of her never fails to make him cringe a little.

"You look fine," he finally chokes out.

Hermione's looking at him like he's completely nuts. Excellent.

"All right," she finally says slowly.

"I mean, it's not like the stunningly pretty thing was so far off the mark, or anything," he adds awkwardly. "'Cause you're quite – nice. And, er—"

"Oh, Ron, knock it off," Hermione cuts in, rolling her eyes. "You don't have to try to make me feel better. I know perfectly well that everything in that article was a complete lie."

"Okay," he says with a sigh of relief. "Thanks."

She just stares at him for a second – her eyes go all weird and dark, and he panics that maybe he's said the wrong thing again, even though he was just doing what she told him to. You never know with Hermione.

But then she sits up straighter and answers, a little briskly, "You're welcome."

Good enough for him.

"Hey, you want a game of wizard's chess?" he asks, standing to go grab his chessmen from his trunk.

"What about the Potions essay?" Hermione asks disapprovingly, and catches his arm. "I thought you were going to work on that today."

"Give it a rest, Hermione," he orders, shaking her off. "I've got 'til Monday."

"That's what you always say, and you always wind up moaning and groaning about it midnight on Sunday," she reminds him, sounding a whole lot like Mum. "Wouldn't it just be better to get it over and done with for once?"

"I'm not writing an essay on Saturday morning, Hermione," Ron informs her. "It goes against everything I stand for."

"Being?" she asks skeptically.

"Not writing essays on Saturday morning, and beating the crap out of you at chess." He gives her a winning grin. "What d'you say?"

"Oh, fine," she relents. His grin broadens. "But just one game, and then you're going to get started on that essay."

"Yeah, fine, whatever," he agrees. "Of course."

"I mean it, Ron," she says warningly.

"Me too!" he responds innocently. "Honest."

Not, he silently adds.

She rolls her eyes.

"Go get your chessmen," he instructs, and runs off to do the same.

They meet back up five minutes later at one of the tables, and start setting up at a chessboard.

"I was thinking—" Hermione begins, and falters.

Ron looks up at her. "What?"

Her gaze drops to the chessboard as she sets her pawns down.

"I was thinking maybe you could try to talk to Harry later," she says, higher than normal. "Since the two of you've got detention together tonight, and all."

Hearing that stupid fame-hungry prat's name definitely puts a damper on his good mood.

"Why d'you care?" Ron asks darkly. "Helping out your boyfriend, then, are you?"

"Don't be daft," she says impatiently. "I just hate you two fighting, that's all."

"Well, don't act like it's my fault," Ron retorts. "If he'd just admit he put his name in that goblet—"

"But he didn't, and you know it," Hermione interrupts, frustrated. "I've told you loads of times."

"Sure, that's what he says," Ron grumbles.

"He didn't," Hermione insists, glaring at him. "Ron, don't pretend you don't know him better than that. This is all so stupid."

"You don't get it," Ron mutters, and slams down his rook a bit harder than necessary. He can't quite decide whether he wants to talk to her about this or not. Part of him almost suspects it might be a good idea – more often than not, she seems to know the right way of going about things. But at the same time, it's not like this is Arithmancy. Who's to say she knows how to deal with it? If it doesn't result in top marks or house elf liberation, she's probably not even interested.

"What don't I get?" Hermione asks, a little softly.

"Nothing," he answers moodily. "Never mind."

Which, of course, isn't nearly enough to keep her quiet.

"I know it's hard," she says sympathetically, figuring everything out in about a fraction of a second, like usual. "He's been famous the whole time you've known him, and it must not be easy to stand in his shadow all the time."

"Oh, what would you know?" Ron can't help snapping a little bitterly. "You're completely brilliant. You'll probably go down in Hogwarts history for getting the first ever five hundred percent."

"That doesn't mean I don't know what it's like not to get noticed." Her voice sounds a bit funny – sort of low and quiet. She takes a deep breath as soon as the words are out of her mouth, like maybe she said them by accident in the first place and now she's trying to inhale them back in.

He doesn't know what the hell she's getting at.

"Oh really?" he scowls. Even if she sounds bizarre, he figures he gets the message. "Doesn't look that way from over here."

"Oh, never mind," she says, sounding irritated. She knocks her king over by accident, and angrily rights it. "Just . . . can't you try to make up?"

"No," Ron says bluntly.

"Okay then. You know what, I've changed my mind," she snaps, standing abruptly. "I'm going to go do some reading."

"What?" he demands. It's not like he wants her to go. "You're always reading! At this rate, you're going to be out of books by sixth year!" Ron stares at her as gravely as he can. "Think about it, Hermione. In the long run, you're only hurting yourself."

"Thanks for your concern, but I doubt I'll run out of books," Hermione replies tersely, gathering up her chessmen. "I'll see you at lunch, then, shall I?"

"Hermione, wait up—"

But she's off, all huffy and offended for no logical reason. Just like her, really, not to try to see his side of all this for five seconds. He watches her walk away, feeling a little bit guilty and a lot more irritated that she's got him feeling guilty in the first place. As she heads past the portrait hole, it swings open, and Harry steps inside. Ron drops his gaze right away.

. . . then looks right back up. But subtle, this time.

"There you are!" Hermione exclaims, and reaches over to place a hand on Harry's arm. She pulls it back again quick enough, and she's done that sort of thing tons of times, but it still seems worth noting now for some reason.

"I wanted a walk," Harry answers. "Besides, I thought you wanted to hang out with—"

"No, he's busy," Hermione cuts in quickly. "Why don't you come down to the library with me?"

Harry looks around, then shrugs. "Yeah, all right."

They take off, and Ron can't help the hollow, sick sort of feeling that he gets watching them go. He can't quite work up the energy to convince himself he's not feeling it in the first place, either, which is the really rotten thing. It's just . . . he's used to being dragged off to the library right along with them, and there's something a bit depressing about being excluded. And sure, he can hang around with Fred and George and Lee, or Dean and Seamus, but it's not the same with any of them.

Of course he's the one who has to lose both his best friends because of this stupid row. It really bloody figures.

With slightly shaking fingers, he grabs the little drawstring bag he keeps his chessmen in, then reaches for one of his bishops.

"Alas! You've driven away our worthy opponent before a game could so much as begin!" it says woefully. They do tend to start blathering on about stuff other than chess when you keep them around for too long. He usually thinks it's quite funny, but right now, it just seems really damn annoying.

"Yeah, well," Ron answers grumpily. "Don't know what her problem is all of a sudden."

"You might learn how to treat your queen with more respect, good sir!" the bishop suggests.

Ron picks up the queen and inspects her. She's a bit scratched up from an unfortunate run-in with Crookshanks last year, but nothing new. "She looks fine to me."

"Your other queen, sire," the bishop says pointedly.

"Wha—"

The bishop raises a pointed eyebrow at him, which probably shouldn't even be possible. He cocks his tiny head in the direction of the portraithole, where Hermione and Harry had been a minute before.

"Hermione?" Ron realizes, aghast. He feels sort of like he just got punched in the stomach – by a tiny chessman that doesn't even have fists, no less. "You're mental."

"If I may offer my opinion, most honorable and gifted master, it seems that your feelings for the lady are perhaps—"

"Shut up," he orders, and stuffs the bishop angrily back into the drawstring bag. He supposes he could get Neville or Seamus or somebody to play with him, but he's not really in the mood. Chess suddenly seems like a spectacularly stupid idea.

He figures he's got a Potions essay to work on, anyhow.