Awakening

Chapter 4 – In Silence

In which Hermione and Ron decide to talk (Ron decides to, anyway); Harry and Ginny commiserate; Ron finally runs out of things to say; and Kaeri gets irritated.

"Ron," Harry ventured tentatively as he poked his fork at his beef (which seemed quite…alive), "are you sure you want to go through this? I mean, maybe Mione isn't ready to talk yet. She might not…handle things too well."

Ron sighed impatiently through a mouthful of pasta. "You don't 'ndershtand, 'Arry," he gestured quite animatedly with his own fork, unaware of the droplets of sauce that flew from it. "I can't 'ait any longer than I 'lready have. I can't shtand not thalking to 'Ermione, not when I don't even know whass wrong with 'er. Beshides—you're getting 'ffected by this too. She's not even eatin' with us."

"Right," Harry nodded slowly, still sullenly poking at his food. "You're right—you have to talk to Hermione."

It's useless arguing with him, Harry told himself, he's dead set on talking to Mione. Why try to stop him? Besides, he'll have to find out sometime.

"Harry," someone gently tapped him on his shoulder. "Could I talk to you for a second?"

Both Harry and Ron turned around to see who had spoken.

"Oh, hi Ginny," Ron gave his younger sister a brief smile before turning back to his food.

"Sure…what do you need to talk to me about?" Harry prepared to get up.

Ginny gestured at Ron's hunched back. She mouthed, You know, and pressed her finger to her lips.

"Oh," Harry nodded, his green eyes darting over to Ron (who was concentrating far too much on his food) nervously. "That's right. You have to talk to me about that…thing…for, er, school."

"Yup," Ginny nodded, rolling her eyes at Harry's pitiful attempt at a lie.

"You go on ahead," Ron said abstractedly. His eyes swept past them before landing upon Hermione, who was sitting beside Andy Geller and was looking rather distracted.

"Right," Harry got up, and was immediately ushered out by a very wide-eyed Ginny.

Kaeri Aston slid into Harry's seat almost immediately, ignoring the brief, mildly unwelcome glances she got from some Gryffindors.

"Hi Ron," she grinned, with a small wave.

"Hullo," Ron said, with a smile that told her quite clearly he wasn't listening too much (if at all).

Kaeri sat in silence for a moment, before waving her hand in front of Ron's eyes. "What's up with you?"

"Hmm?" Ron blinked. "Oh, nothing."

Kaeri sighed very patiently. "You've been like this all week. Tell me what's wrong."

Ron shrugged. "Really, Kaeri, there's nothing wrong with me."

"Riiiiiight," Kaeri said sarcastically. "So, how've you been?"

"Good, you?" Ron still sounded very distracted. His azure eyes were unfocused and hazy.

"Oh, I'm good," Kaeri narrowed her eyes in careful scrutiny. "Though, I almost failed my Arithmancy exam; Math just isn't my best subject, I guess."

"I'm sorry, what?"

Grr. "I almost peed on our currency, to save all those festive pigs, I guess."

"Oh," Ron nodded. "That's all right." He reached over and patted her back.

"You really just aren't listening, are you?" Kaeri stood up, very irritably. "I'll talk to you when you're up for talking, Ron." At that, she flounced off.

Ron watched her walk off. "There's another problem I have to fix," he mumbled, ignoring the stares he was getting from those beside him. But right now, I'll deal with Mione.

"Okay, Ginny," Harry called after her, "you can stop now—I'm sure neither Ron nor Mione can hear us."

"Yeah," Ginny sat down on the steps outside the Great Hall. "You're right."

Harry sat down beside her. "Well, what's up?"

Ginny glared at him. "You know what's up," she said. "Ron and Mione. Like you said. Harry, Mione's utterly ready to avoid Ron for the rest of the year."

Harry sighed. "Well, Ron's going to force her into talking to him in about…" he glanced at his watch. "A couple of minutes."

"What?" Ginny moaned, shaking her head. "Oh, no. That means Mione is going to tell him that I told her about his crush – ex-crush. Ron's going to kill me!"

"You're lucky," said Harry, quite sullenly. "When Ron tells Hermione that it was my idea to talk to her—which it wasn't—she's probably going to turn me into a sloth."

Hermione hurried into the common room, pushing the portrait of the Fat Lady shut behind her.

She had watched surreptitiously as Kaeri, looking very annoyed, had left Ron alone at the Gryffindor table. She then watched Ron as he got up and began walking towards the Ravenclaw table, where she sat. Terrified, she had mumbled a lame excuse to Andy and then quickly scurried off.

With a sigh, she walked over to the couch situated at the center of the room and sank down there.

"Fundilingers."

"That's right, my dear."

Hermione looked up.

"God, no," she muttered underneath her breath as she saw Ron poke his head in with a timid grin.

"Hullo," said Ron, stepping in. "Any room for me in there?"

"Yes," answered Hermione, very tiredly. "Lots of room."

Ron grinned again, and plopped down beside her on the couch. "So…"

"So…" Hermione echoed, scratching her head, feeling very awkward.

Ron cleared his throat, then shifted position so that he could be facing her. "Okay, Mione," he said, with a grin. "Spill it. What have I done or not done to make you so annoyed at me…or us?"

"Us?"

"Me and Harry," he explained, still smiling. "C'mon. What's up?"

Hermione got up abruptly, surprising Ron.

"Really, I—" she coughed, shifting her weight from one foot to another. "I really don't…uh. I really don't want to talk about it right now." She forced out a grin, bracing one hand on her hip as she shifted her weight around again. "So, okay. I'lltalktoyoulaterRonbye!"

She turned around, and began to hurry towards the staircase leading to the girl's dormitory.

"Wait a second," Ron got up and struggled to catch up. "Wait, Hermione. Come on, wait—"

With a loud oof, he stumbled over the thick carpet and fell over, arms flailing, eyes wide.

Hermione whirled around again as she heard the dull thud Ron made as he made contact with the wooden floor.

Ron had already gotten up. "I'm okay," he said hastily, crossing his arms before his chest. "I'm fine. Yes. I am."

"Are you sure?" Hermione bit her lip to try and hold back her giggles.

"Yeah," Ron studiously ignored his aching nose (which, incidentally, had been squashed flat when he fell) and his injured pride. "So, come on. Talk to me."

"No," insisted Hermione, quite stubbornly.

"You know I'm not going to leave you alone," Ron went on. "I'm going to get it out of you sometime, so might as well tell me now."

"You really want to know?" asked Hermione, narrowing her eyes.

Ron nodded decisively, without even a moment's hesitation. "I really want to know."

Hermione sat down on the first step. "Are you sure? Absolutely, positively sure?"

"Yes," Ron insisted, nodding. "After all, I'm sure it's nothing that bad. It can't hurt for me to know."

"I'm serious, Ron. You don't want to know."

"You can't tell me what I want and don't want to know," said Ron, stubbornly.

Hermione took a deep, shuddering breath, her fingers knotting nervously in her robes as she did so.

"Okay," she began slowly. "You asked for it. Do you remember when you ate that Lollipop Head Lollipop and you were sent to the clinic?"

"Do I ever," Ron answered wryly, "my head still feels a bit bloated."

Hermione's lips quirked into a small smile, but it dissolved quickly. "Yeah…well, we were left alone: Harry Ginny, the twins, and myself. And…uh…we got to talking, and—" she faltered. She seemed to briefly contemplate something before going on. "And someone told me that you…you know. That you—well, yes."

"That I what?" Ron prompted. His smile had waned slightly, for fear that the smallest chance that Hermione was going to say what he thought she could possibly say might come true.

Hermione cleared her throat, and said in a very soft voice:

"That you used to like me."

She said it, a voice that Ron had assumed was his conscience, mumbled.

Ron stood still, his eyes wide and unblinking.

Hermione stared up at him imploringly, waiting for him to speak.

He didn't.

Okay, Ron, the voice went on, extremely patiently, we both know you never expected her to know, but it isn't that big of a surprise.

Ron continued to look at Hermione, dumbfounded. He could feel his ears turning red.

Say something!

He opened his mouth, and nothing came out. He had no idea what to tell her.

You're probably as red as a damn tomato now, the voice told him, and there's nothing you can say that can possibly make this any more humiliating.

"Uh…"

Just get it out! Nothing you can say would be worse than shutting up and staring at her.

"Ron?" Hermione forced out an encouraging smile. "Say something."

Say something! Even she says so!

"Well," Ron, clapped his hands together, and said the first thing that came to his mind. "Don't I resemble a tomato now—er. I mean, yes. You were right. I don't think I wanted to hear that."

Hermione arched one eyebrow.

A/N: Ah, and after months of hiatus and cold weather, I'm back home with a new chapter I should have posted long ago. A big thanks goes out to Circinius, who beta-read this for me. I owe you! :D Please tell me what you think!