A/N: How many times has this been written? Ah, I couldn't help myself! I've been listening to this obscure little electronic/ambient track called "In Love, Not Limbo" by Of Oceans—hence the chapter titles. (Listen here: .com/of-oceans-in-love-not-limbo/) Don't know when/why I made the connection between this song and Ron leaving, returning, and the ensuing tension with Hermione…I just feel like there's a similar emotion to this song…even though I find this track rather serene, as well. My brain tends to form juxtaposing views of things…always. Anyway, share your thoughts/opinions/love!
Chapter 1: In Limbo
Ron and Harry sat in amicable silence for the first time in far too long, although Harry could see Ron's eyes concentrated on Hermione's tense back. He wasn't sure how much longer they could pretend she was sleeping. Rising to his feet, Harry cast another drying spell on his clothes and pulled on an extra jumper.
"I think I'll be finishing up my watch," he said meaningfully, grabbing up a blanket and heading toward the opening.
Ron shot up, beating him to the tent flap.
"No, mate, let me. Please, it's the least I could do after…after running out like I did," said Ron, his last words coming out almost painfully.
Harry smiled warmly at him, though he had been certain his lips had almost forgotten how to perform the very action up until now.
"Don't. You saved my life tonight, Ron. You've just about done enough in my book," Harry assured him. In a softer voice, he added, "Might want to try finding your way back into someone else's good books."
Harry tilted his head in the direction of Hermione's bunk. Ron shook his head dejectedly.
"Right…that'll be an effin' cakewalk…" he retorted mordantly.
Harry replied with two sympathetic pats on Ron's back before striding outside.
Ron didn't seem to know what to do with himself. He shuffled around at the mouth of the tent, tugging at his short pyjama sleeves. Knowing that she was still awake but stubbornly refusing to acknowledge his presence (or his existence, more like it) made Ron shudder at the mere idea of going anywhere near the bunk above her, where he normally slept.
He decided instead to occupy himself in their tiny kitchen by making tea the Muggle way, hoping it would soothe his nerves. He went about putting the kettle on. He noticed that it wasn't in its usual spot. For some reason, this minute detail reminded Ron that only an idiot would assume that everything would be the same upon his sudden reappearance.
'I AM an idiot,' he thought gloomily to himself.
Ron was quick to catch the steaming kettle before it whistled, lest he hack Hermione off even worse. He didn't bother to use exorbitant amounts of sugar as he commonly did, much to the annoyance of the very same brunette witch. Perhaps it could be another outward act of contrition, he mused. He would do anything to show her just how desperately sorry he was, no matter how feeble.
Ron returned to the bunks to discover Hermione flopping onto her back dramatically, the back of her hand coming to rest against her forehead.
"You're awake," he said stupidly.
"How perceptive of you," she spoke to the bunk hanging above. "How do you suppose I'm to sleep with you banging around over there?"
"I-I'm sorry….I didn't mean—"sputtered Ron.
"Yes, you've said as much. Forgive me if I don't believe you any more now than I did an hour ago."
Despite his guilt, Ron felt his blood boil in a way only Hermione could provoke.
"I'm not sure what better way to say how I feel. I do know that I will keep apoligising 'til You-Know-Who is dead and buried, if I have to. I'm sorry," vowed Ron.
Hermione sat up so quickly, he thought she would smack her head on one of the beams of the bunk above hers.
"Stop! Stop saying that!" she growled through clenched teeth.
Ron set his tea down forcefully, spilling liquid everywhere and nearly breaking the handle off in the process.
"I am sorry," he ground out forcefully, hoping the words weren't losing their meaning in his frustration.
She leapt from her bed, no longer caring if her plan of ignoring him for every day he had been absent was being so easily derailed. Standing before him, she opened and closed her mouth like a fish gasping for water before dissolving into tears.
Though thrown off balance by her unexpected weeping, Ron realized he now had another opportunity to get through to her. Closing the gap between them, he eased his quaking arms around her. To his great astonishment, she did not recoil in revulsion but fell into his chest. He murmured his apology like a mantra as he clung to her firmly.
"Why did you leave?" she whispered meekly into his shoulder, but she quickly gathered herself and pushed away from him, looking annoyed that she had let her guard down so recklessly. She was glaring at him now with that white-hot scorn that made his insides eat away at themselves. Her eyes blazed with challenge.
"The locket…" he began tentatively.
"That is not a reason, it is an excuse. You took the locket off before you left. You had plenty of time to come around," Hermione shot back, every word dripping with bitterness, like she had been preparing for this argument every night for the past few weeks.
"It didn't matter whether the damn thing was chained around my neck, or ten feet away…" Ron was grasping for the right words to make her understand…to make her forgive him.
"Right. Because you're the special exception? Harry's the one You-Know-Who is really after. Why wouldn't the locket consider him more of a threat?"
"I…I don't know—"
"Why don't you just admit that you wanted to leave? Admit that you never wanted to come with us in the first place!" Hermione interjected with an irrational shout. She jabbed Ron in the chest accusingly with each claim, causing Ron to flinch.
His face fell, and he cast his head down in shame, his breathing becoming labored.
"I didn't want to leave, Hermione…"
She clucked her tongue in disgust, and turned away from him.
Something in Ron snapped.
"WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SAY? That I left because I don't care about you? Well, you're wrong! I love you so bloody much, I feel like getting sick practically every time you-you exhale near me."
Ron and Hermione sucked in a breath in near tandem, but Ron forged on.
"A-And I know that's not exactly…romantic, blimey! But I don't know how I'm supposed to explain to you that I've fancied my best friend since I was twelve!"
Hermione still faced away from him, trembling visibly, her arms wrapped around herself as if for support. Ron began pacing around the tent in great strides, mussing up his hair as he made laps around the couch.
"You want to know why I left…why I'm such a…fucking daft sack of Dungbombs?
She shook her head rapidly, unable to form coherent sentences, but he went on anyway.
"One day, I fell asleep with that sodding locket around my neck, and…and it was like he was there. Like he could see right through me…except worse…like he could…be me. And he plucked it all out of me…every fear, every failure, every regret—he grabbed hold of them. Then, he threw them back at me, one after the other, like giant mad bludgers."
Hermione couldn't help but smile inwardly at his impromptu reference to Quidditch. Only Ron could use a Wizard sport as a metaphor in a conversation like this…
"He didn't even really need to try. I was already afraid that so many of them were true. Afraid that I would never be the hero Harry was…I would never make my family proud...I would never be able to offer anything to… anybody," Ron said more soberly.
Hermione spun around on the spot, ready to protest.
"Don't be ridiculous!" she shouted at him, unable to say anything further.
"Oh, thanks for that. Exactly the words of comfort I was hoping to hear," Ron joked weakly.
She simply scowled back at him, the deep frown marring her face.
"By the time I had sussed out that I was completely useless, a new thought occurred to me. Everyone else believed those things, too…even the two people that mattered most. They didn't need me."
"You know that could never be true. We're a team. We always have been," she said urgently.
Ron looked at her thoughtfully. He shoved his hands into his pockets and started kicking at the ground. He wandered over to the bench and sat down. Hermione remained rooted to her spot, afraid he might stop talking at the drop of a pin.
"I suppose that was part of the problem, as well. I always knew that you were the brilliant one, and Harry was the…Merlin, Harry is meant to save the world. He's everything, isn't he?" Ron asked sadly. "Where's that supposed to leave me?"
Hermione took measured steps towards Ron, eventually landing right in front of him. In a bold move, he tugged on her hand, gesturing for her to sit beside him. She complied, grasping onto his fingers as he attempted to let go. His hand relaxed in hers. The act allowed him the courage to go on with his little discourse.
"When Harry asked me to destroy the locket, I was terrified, but, I figured…maybe I was meant to pull him out of the water. Maybe the sword meant for me to find it, so I could send that bit of You-Know-Who's soul straight to the bloody gates of hell. Felt a bit like fate, showing up there right at that moment."
Ron's eyes went unfocused, staring out at something Hermione would never see.
"I lifted the sword…and that's when…" he paused, suddenly looking an unpleasant shade of grey.
"I knew it fought back," exclaimed Hermione in a somewhat swotty tone.
"And you get offended when I call you a know-it-all," Ron replied after a while, teasingly.
Hermione had the grace to blush.
"What happened?" she probed.
"Will you promise…promise not to be upset?" he asked with caution, clearly troubled that her attack from earlier might resume provided his next words. Harry wouldn't be around to throw up a shield charm this time.
To his general astonishment, Hermione let out a broken little laugh.
"You honestly believe I can get any more upset than I am already?"
"I've learned it's best not to test you. Took ages for those bird bites to heal."
"Well, they were magic. What did you expect? You should consider yourself lucky I wasn't practicing Transfiguring Acromantulas," she said cheekily. She felt Ron shudder at the mere mention of spiders.
Hermione wondered with frustration why it was so easy for them to fall into this playful banter even when she was so dreadfully angry with him, although, that question only led to more frustration because she knew the answer. She loved him.
"I promise," she whispered finally.
He looked over at her, and she saw gratitude in his eyes, but there was also fear.
"It was you. You and Harry. Your voices. Your faces. In the locket," he said abruptly.
She blinked at him, perplexed.
"Excuse me," indignation wrapped around her words. She snatched her hand away from his, and scooted away until she was balancing near the edge of the bench.
"Fucking hell, I knew you would react this way…" he mumbled under his breath, but apparently not quietly enough.
"What way did you expect me to react? You've obviously gone mad! You tell me that HARRY AND I managed to seep out of that-that vile thing?" Hermione questioned huffily. "Is this like my voice coming out of the Deluminator?"
"No! Not at all…" he answered back miserably, contemplating whether he should just shut his trap before messing things up further.
"What, may I ask, were we doing in there? Taking a holiday?"
Her questions were asked in a skeptical, acerbic voice, one meant to injure.
"Forget it. You promised you wouldn't be angry, and obviously you are. Forget I said anything," Ron bit back, hastily accepting defeat.
Hermione made a strangled noise that could nearly pass for a laugh if not so imbued with resentment.
"Well, now at least we both know the feeling! You should undoubtedly be familiar with breaking promises."
With that, she grabbed her blanket and stormed out into the darkness, relieving Harry from guard duty virtually three hours premature.
Harry entered the tent to find Ron cradling his head in his palms.
"What in Merlin's beard was that about…You know what, nevermind. I am blissfully unaware," said Harry, keen to not get wrapped up in another argument, especially one between his two ever-willful friends. He climbed into his bunk, facing away from Ron.
". the. world's. BIGGEST. prat," Ron punctuated with a groan.
Harry didn't bother to turn towards him, but spoke from underneath his blanket.
"Yeah, mate, I know. If I were you, I'd quit while I was ahead."
"Are you taking the piss out of me? How am I ahead?" asked an exasperated and more than frazzled Ron.
"At least she's speaking to you."
"Oh, bloody…I think I told her I loved her!" cried Ron, eyes turning big as Jupiter. He emitted another groan, and it was now Harry's turn to shoot up in bed. He actually did hit his head on the bars above.
"Yo-you, you what?" yelled Harry once he had recovered.
"I said I—"
"I heard you! I'm not exactly Lothario when it comes to these things, but bloke-to-bloke, I don't think that's the best way to ask for forgiveness at the present moment…"
"What's Lothario?" asked Ron, who was looking more and more confused by the second.
Harry ignored his question, opting to stare at him incredulously.
"I gather that didn't go as planned, then…" Harry gestured vaguely toward the flap.
"Not exactly. I also tried to tell her about the locket," confessed Ron queasily.
"And she told you how ridiculous the idea of us snogging is?" Harry said as a statement more than a question.
"I didn't really get that far…"
Ron averted his gaze. As far as he was concerned, he would be pleased if Harry never brought up what he had witnessed back by the lake again. Harry picked up on his discomfort and was suddenly feeling equally awkward.
Positioning himself back on his pillow, Harry lifted the covers to his chin.
"She'll come around, "he said with finality.
"Yeah…yeah," Ron spoke uncertainly. "Goodnight, Harry."
"Goodnight, Ron, "responded Harry. "Oh, and Ron?"
"I am glad you're back. I missed you…"
"Poof," Ron joked, a large grin plastered to his face despite the seriousness of the past few minutes.
With a rude hand gesture and a similar smile gracing his features, Harry settled into sleep.
However, once in his bunk, Ron found it harder to accomplish any actual sleeping. Not only had he managed to bungle things up with Hermione worse than before, but he practically confessed his undying love for her. No, not practically—actually.
And she hadn't said it back.
'Well, 'course she didn't. You all but said loving her makes you want to retch all over the place,' pondered Ron, glum once again.
He was back at the starting line; except he was more certain than ever that he had a good chance of coming in last place.
Ron rubbed at his face in a weary way that had nothing to do with being physically tired. He would just have to keep trying. Ron meant it when he said if he had to keep apologising 'til the end of the bleeding war, he would.
When it came to Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley was accustomed to waiting.
He was used to being in limbo.
A/N Part II: Many thanks to TMBlue, the beta darling that she is! I appreciate sharing stories and music with you whenever we can.