"You should eat something."
Great, now Harry's really starting to nag like Hermione, Ron thought. He frowned. Someone had to fill the role, he supposed. She'd barely spoken to him since he'd snapped at her earlier in the week. Ron couldn't blame her. He'd spent the past several days snapping at everyone, especially after Dean had made a half-hearted apology and Harry had reminded him they'd both be barred from playing Quidditch if they got into a fight. He couldn't even have that release for the frustration that had been building. Not that easing the tension would make him play any better. He just knew he'd have to find his own punching bag once he became the target for the rest of his house. His last practice had been his worst by far. Still, it wasn't over until the team took off over the pitch.
"I'm not hungry." He turned to Harry. "You know it's not too late to get someone else," he whispered. "I'd hate to think of Seamus or someone else filling in, but that's better than us losing."
"Stop it," Harry said through a mouthful of food. "I'm not going to change my mind. You should eat something," he repeated, gesturing to the trays of food covering the table. "At least have some pumpkin juice," he said, picking up Ron's glass and putting it near the edge of the table within easy reach. "I'd hate for you to pass out on your broom."
"That'd be better than what's likely to happen," Ron muttered, turning to stare at his empty plate. He couldn't eat anything. That would increase his likelihood of getting sick and there was already a pretty strong chance of that. Especially since he could hear the Slytherins on the other side of the Great Hall singing that stupid song of theirs about him. If that was what he had to look forward to all afternoon, the team might be better off if he didn't show up to the match at all.
A tap on his shoulder broke his concentrated stare at his plate and Ron looked up, surprised to see Lavender standing behind him.
"Hi." She smiled. Ron was further surprised to see her begin to blush. "I just wanted to wish you luck. With Quidditch," she added unnecessarily. She squeezed his shoulder lightly and then snatched her hand back. She began playing with the end of her scarf. "So, good luck," Lavender said. She added another smile and then walked away; Parvati followed quickly behind her until they reached their seats further down the table. Ron continued staring after them as they huddled their heads together and whispered, both shooting small glances back at him.
A shadow moved across the table and Ron looked up to find Hermione standing over him. She glanced at Ron briefly before turning her attention to Harry. "So, you think Gryffindor's ready for the match?" She attempted a smile, but her nerves only allowed her to maintain the gesture for a few seconds before her lips dropped into a thin line as she pressed them together.
"We'll be fine," Harry assured her. He patted Ron on the back as he said this. Hermione's eyes were drawn back to him.
"Don't," she said coolly. She crossed her arms. Hermione had opened her mouth to say something else when her eyes suddenly widened. "Harry, what are you doing?"
At Hermione's shout, Ron turned to his friend. Harry was slipping his hand into the pocket of his robes, grinning widely at Hermione on his other side.
"Hermione, I don't know what you're talking about."
"I don't believe you," she said. "Why would you do that?" Ron turned back to her.
"He slipped Felix Felicis into your pumpkin juice." She frowned. "You know you can't do that before a match. You could be expelled."
"I didn't," Harry responded. Ron could hear the laughter in his voice.
Bless him, Ron thought, grabbing for his cup of pumpkin juice. Hermione put a hand to his wrist.
"Don't drink that."
"Don't tell me what to do, Hermione." Grinning, Ron raised the cup to his lips and drained it in one gulp. When he lowered the cup to the table, Hermione was glaring at both of them.
"I don't believe you! You could get into so much trouble."
Ron shrugged. Every time she said that, it was usually because they were about to do something that needed to be done, even if she couldn't see it at the time. This was no different. If he didn't get some kind of extra help before facing Slytherin, he'd never be relieved of hearing that stupid song for the foreseeable future. The last thing he wanted was to bear the Weasley King title forever. He appreciated anything Harry wanted to do to keep that from happening. Even if Hermione couldn't see the point of it. She didn't get why Quidditch was important anyway.
"It's fine, Hermione," Ron said, smiling at her. "Harry says he didn't put anything in my drink and I believe him." He chuckled. He could feel it working already. The tight feeling in his chest and stomach had loosened up and he was actually looking forward to flying out over the pitch. He could picture himself blocking goal after goal and know it wasn't just something in his imagination. It was a strong possibility. It was going to happen. Today was his lucky day.
Weasley King indeed. Ron felt like shouting. More than he'd done flying over the pitch as Madam Hooch had called the match for Gryffindor. More than he had in the locker room while his teammates had started a round of the new version of "Weasley is our King" while they showered and changed. As the other students in his house lifted him over their shoulders and sang his new favorite song in increasingly loud voices. When they laughingly lowered him to the ground, someone turned on the wireless and the common room filled with music, laughter and continual congratulations from the students surrounding him. Ron tried to find Harry in the crowd, but didn't spot him among the grinning faces and reaching hands.
At least someone had had confidence in him, even if Ron hadn't had any in himself. If anything was greater than Gryffindor's victory and the look on Malfoy's face when it was declared, it was knowing that he'd done on it own. Not that he minded a little help. When he needed it. And he hadn't. Never mind what Hermione had thought. She'd get over being wrong just this once. If her grin across the room was any indication, she didn't mind being wrong.
Ron had begun making his way towards her when a strong pair of hands stopped him in place. He looked down to find Lavender gripping both of his arms. Her lips were moving, but he couldn't hear what she was saying over the noise. He bent over and she slipped her arms around his neck and began to sway to the music.
"I just wanted to congratulate you," Lavender shouted.
"Thanks," Ron said. He could feel his face warming as Lavender wriggled closer to him, slipping her arms tighter around his neck.
"I knew all along you could do it," she said.
"Really? I was nervous," he admitted. "After last year, I didn't know what was going to happen."
Lavender grinned and leaned up to whisper in his ear. "So, you think it was my wishing you luck that made the difference?"
Ron nodded as she pulled back to look into his eyes. "That's possible," he whispered just before her lips touched his. It could've been seconds later, or minutes, but by the time the roar of the crowd surrounding them reached his ears, Ron was struggling. He was having a hard time breathing. He was straining not to move his hands all over as Lavender moved against him in a way he thought should be forbidden in public. He was trying his best not to grab her and kiss all over her face in a way he'd heard girls hated.
But she was making it hard. Lavender was making it quite hard to do anything but think of Quidditch and remind himself that anything they did in public had to be strictly above the waist. As she pressed herself to him and whispered that they should go someplace more comfortable, Ron wondered if Lavender knew that too. She dropped a soft kiss on his neck and he decided he didn't care.
She steered him over to a chair before shoving him into it, sitting on his lap and drawing his lips to hers again. Minutes, or maybe hours, passed. Lavender was stealing his breath, but Ron didn't want to stop her. He was quickly getting used to the luxurious slide of her tongue against his, the sweet taste of butterbeer as their mouths slow danced, the feel of her curves as she pressed herself onto his lap and edged his fumbling hands where she wanted to feel them. He'd never done this before, but Ron had the feeling they had to find someplace private, and soon, or he'd do something embarrassing that had nothing to do with failing to keep the Quaffle away from a hoop. Lavender released him from the kiss and smiled into his eyes. She definitely had the same idea. It really was his lucky day.
It hadn't taken long to find a room. Lavender's hand gripped in his, Ron fumbled for the doorknob with sweaty fingers before it moved beneath his hand. He shoved the door open and stumbled inside. All of his happy thoughts disappeared and his grin died on his lips. In the far corner of the room, birds were circling overhead as Harry and Hermione talked quietly; they stopped abruptly when Ron came in. Hermione glared at him with suspiciously red, moist eyes. Harry turned, his mouth pulling into a small frown when Lavender pushed her way into the room behind him.
"Oops," she said. She giggled and backed out of the room again; her hand slipped out of his as she moved down the hall.
Ron was stuck for something to say. He hadn't seen Hermione look that angry…well, ever. "Sorry," he mumbled. Before he could slide back through the doorway and follow Lavender, Hermione raised her wand and shouted a spell quite different from the one they'd been practicing in Charms the day before. Ron was instantly surrounding by a dozen loudly chirping canaries. He screamed as the little yellow demons pecked at his face before he put his arms up; then they began pecking as his arms, ears and neck.
Ron stumbled backwards through the doorway, swatting at the birds and swearing. He was going to kill Hermione. What the bloody hell had she done that for? He angled one of his arms over both eyes and groped around his pockets for his wand. Before he could find it, the birds suddenly disappeared. He lowered his arm, hoping that Hermione hadn't gotten rid of them only to send them on the attack again once he'd lowered his guard. He spotted Lavender in front of him and breathed a sigh of relief. A quick glance around the hall revealed that Harry and Hermione were gone.
"How did that happen?"
"I don't know," Ron said. "Hermione's gone off her nut."
"She did that to you?" Lavender asked. Her eyes narrowed. "Why? What did you do to her?"
"Nothing! She just…bloody…stupid…can we just find an empty room?" he asked. That probably wasn't the best way to ask, but since the last thing he wanted to do was debate why Hermione had lost her last shred of sanity, Ron figured the best thing to do was carry on with their original plans for the afternoon.
Lavender smiled. "Sure we can." She reached for one of his hands and traced her fingers lightly over the fresh red marks trailing over his wrist. "Today is supposed to be a good day for you. I intend to erase every bad memory she left." She grinned and Ron felt his face warm. "Even if it takes all afternoon."
Ron had to hand it to Lavender. She'd definitely cleared his mind of anything remotely bad for quite a while that afternoon. He'd been shocked back to the reality of what had happened when he'd come back to the Gryffindor common room and his sister had glared at the two of them as they held hands walking across the room and up the stairs. He was down to wondering if the whole world had gone insane along with Hermione when he'd gotten to his dorm and Dean and Seamus had started in on him again, joined by a softly laughing Neville.
"I told you, we're just going as friends," Ron said. He flexed his hand. The little cuts stung. He was going to have to put something on them.
"Right," Dean said as Seamus chuckled. "I don't think you're going at all, not after what you pulled."
"Pulled? I was just…she never said…just friends," Ron spluttered. He turned as Harry came into the room, his expression skeptical. "I don't care what any of you think. I never said anything more than that to her. We never agreed to more than that and if she doesn't like that Lavender and I—"
"You're together? Kissing? Scored through her left and right hoop in record time?" Dean grinned and Ron felt a renewed urge to punch him.
"That we…kissed, she'll have to get over it," Ron said. "I never made her any promises except to go to that stupid party and I'll be damned if I take any more abuse from her because of…what happened." His roommates continued chuckling. Except for Harry. He was giving Ron a searching look. The moment Ron noticed it, he lowered his eyes and began going through his trunk.
The trick was to ignore Hermione's nutty behavior. If she saw she wasn't getting to him, she might eventually drop it and go back to normal. Or he could fight back, his way. It was the only method to surviving an argument with Hermione. Girl or not, if she kept up the stupid attacks, he'd have no choice but to fight back.
She wasn't speaking to him. Fine. That was fine. Hermione could stick her nose in the air when he walked by and suck air through her teeth when he talked and glare when he walked in front of her to her heart's content. When Lavender sat on his lap in the common room and leaned over to whisper that she'd had a dream about him, Ron forgot about Hermione and her latest temper tantrum. Almost. It was enough that he had something to take his mind off of it. As she whispered in his ear and rubbed her hand across his chest, Ron thought Lavender made for the best kind of distraction.
He was really going to have to do something about Lavender. She was fun. Oh, she was a lot of fun. Hours of it if the room was private and the door was locked. It was one thing to have her all over him when they were alone and he could let his hands do some roaming of their own. It was quite another when they were in the middle of a class and he had to focus on spellwork. It didn't help that Parvati was giggling on her other side, encouraging her. It was a good thing they weren't doing something dangerous or he might have charmed something off he couldn't grow back. As it was, her little squeeze on the thigh had distracted him enough that he'd given himself a thick mustache to rival Slughorn's. If he wasn't mistaken, there was also a faint burning smell.
Ron heard a loud, high laugh followed by a snort and turned to see Hermione across the room, pointing at him. Her eyes were filled with tears again, but a far different kind than the last he'd seen from her. Of course she'd find something stupid he'd done funny. She'd gotten the spell right on her second try and had spent the last few minutes playing professor's assistant. He rolled his eyes then grinned as an idea occurred to him.
His hand shot up in the air and he began wiggling around in his seat. "Ooh Professor, Professor!" Ron shouted in an imitation of Hermione's voice. "When can we learn how to do everything as perfectly as Hermione? Is there extra credit for that?" He smirked when her smile instantly disappeared.
Not so funny to be made fun of, is it?
Before Ron could think of something else to say, the bell rang and Hermione stood and bolted from the classroom, leaving her belongings scattered on and below her desk.
Great. He'd made her little snit worse. He was probably in for a screaming fight the next time he saw her. He sat back in his chair smiling faintly while Lavender told him how funny he was. She asked him to imitate someone else as they packed to leave. He obliged, making her laugh with a sloppy imitation of Seamus's drawl. But his mind was somewhere else.
In the back of his mind, he wondered if he'd made Hermione cry again.
He found out the answer to that a few hours later. After dinner, he and Lavender were sharing a chair in front of the fireplace. Parvati was hanging around again. She kept smiling at Harry, but he was staring off into the fire, ignoring her repeated attempts to get his attention. Ginny was across the room ignoring Ron's glares at her, but that was fine by him. As long as he didn't have to go over and forcibly separate her from Dean.
Something in the air changed. Ron didn't know what it was, but something made both Lavender and Parvati stop in mid-sentence and giggle nervously before falling silent together. She moved into his vision and plopped into the chair next to Harry. Then he knew.
"Hi, Hermione," Parvati said. Lavender echoed the words and slipped her hand down to wrap around Ron's fingers. "H-how have you been?"
"I've been great," Hermione gushed. Both Ron and Harry stared at her. She sounded…perky. She was grinning and twirling her hair around one finger, a major turnaround from how she'd been acting the last time Ron had seen her.
"Oh, did something happen?" Lavender asked.
"Yes." She smiled and leaned forward as if she were about to reveal a deep secret. "I'm going with Cormac McLaggen to Slughorn's Christmas party." Parvati squealed in response.
Lavender gasped as Ron squeezed his hand into a fist. It took him a few moments, but he eventually relaxed it enough for her to remove her fingers from his grip.
"Really? Are the two of you going out now?" Lavender asked.
Hermione blushed and one corner of her mouth quirked up. "Yes. He seems really eager to go to the party with me."
Parvati's expression became thoughtful. "First Krum and now McLaggen. So, you really like Quidditch players?" Parvati asked.
"Well, I like really good Quidditch players," Hermione said, punctuating this with a grin and wiggle of her eyebrows. The other two girls giggled and leaned closer, peppering Hermione with questions as to how the date came about.
Ron frowned and leaned back in his chair. He knew what this was. Payback for him making fun of her in class. Of all the petty, silly things to do—going out with that handsy pervert because he told her she shouldn't. He'd only been looking out for her best interest, after all. But, of course, Hermione had to be stubborn about it. There was no reason he couldn't have taken her to the party anyway. Well, unless Lavender had a problem with it. But she didn't really have a claim on his time. Unless he let her.
This was aggravating. He wanted to hit something. Something tall and blonde and arrogant. Square in his overlarge nose. Shuffling Lavender aside, he stood abruptly. None of the girls noticed. They were all too busy giggling over Hermione's new boyfriend. As if her pairing up with that randy dog was anything worth celebrating. Ron stalked towards the portrait hole and down the hall with quick, long strides. He would head for the old DADA room. There'd be plenty of junk in there to break.
It was silly. He couldn't explain it and wasn't going to bother trying. Ron knew there was something drawing him out of the common room that night, away from Lavender's soft lips and teasing hands, away from the warmth of the fire and the laughter of his friends, down one quiet set of stairs after another until he drew close to his destination and felt himself breathe for the first time since he'd made his excuses to leave.
He had to see her.
It was stupid, he knew that much. He had no reason at all to want it, had even less reason to believe she would want him to know how she looked that night. But something in him felt Hermione would like to know, one day, that he'd seen her that night all dressed up for the party. That he'd appreciated how long it had taken for her to fuss with her hair until she got it right and that he thought the color of her robes complimented her. The things all girls wanted to hear. Well, from their dates. And he wasn't that. Never would be and that was fine by him. Fine for both of them if she really considered Cormac's company a suitable replacement for his.
But he'd come anyway. The minute he'd heard they'd already started down to the party, Ron couldn't make his excuses fast enough. He'd taken a couple of secret passages and now he waited around the corner from Slughorn's door, feeling like a fool as he hid in the dark.
Hermione's voice echoed down the stone hall and Ron edged his head around the corner, careful that he wouldn't be spotted in the light from a torch overhead. She was beautiful. Again. More than she'd been on Krum's arm. Laughing at something Cormac had said and leaning on his arm as they approached Slughorn's door. Cold fingers clenched Ron's stomach as he watched them together, knowing deep inside he would never earn a smile like that from Hermione.
But he didn't need to, the logical part of his brain argued. They could fight and make up and share notes and see other people in an endless cycle and it was all they both needed from each other. It was the most they could handle. And it would always be enough for both of them.