Shoving his hands deep in his pockets as he walked through the village of Ottery St. Catchpole, Ron wondered why he felt so nervous. It was just a stupid fellytone. No big deal. Muggles did it every day. Besides, Hermione's parents would be a lot more understanding of his ineptness than Harry's nasty old uncle Vernon. Not that he was going to make that particular mistake again.
Still, his stomach squirmed uncomfortably as he walked through the doors of a café, ears prickling in the telltale sign that they had started to turn slightly pink. Much to his relief, the only other person in the café was a kindly woman behind the counter, who smiled at him when he entered.
"Can I get you anything, dear?"
"No, thanks. I just, uh . . . ." He gestured lamely to the fellytone mounted on the back wall, feeling more blood rush to his head. Without another word, he hurried toward it, fumbling in his pockets for the Muggle coins necessary to operate it. Hesitantly, he picked up the part his father had confidently told him was the "receiver". Pressing it to his ear, he was immediately greeted by a low, constant tone.
Hoping that meant it was responding to his offering, he fished a scrap of paper out of his other pocket, read the numbers scrawled there, and dialled. With each button pressed, there was a corresponding beep. When the last number was entered, a ringing started – that, he was pretty sure, meant it was working.
He nearly jumped – it sounded like Hermione was standing right beside him! Ron glanced over his shoulder, half expecting her to have been transported into the café behind him. To his disappointment, there was still only the woman behind the counter.
"Hello?" Hermione's voice asked again in his ear, now sounding irritated.
He nodded. Then, realizing she couldn't see him, sputtered, "Uh, yeah. Yes. 'S me."
"You've learned not to shout, I see," she said, voice teasing, and Ron suddenly realized how much more gratifying it was to hear her over a fellytone than to simply read her letters.
"Second time's the charm, I reckon."
There was a stretch of silence. Suddenly, Ron hated fellytones and their improbable capacity for awkwardness.
"So, uh," he started, voice cracking. He coughed, then continued, "How's summer been?"
"Oh, excellent! Mum and dad still don't quite believe we really had a werewolf for a teacher last year, but they're really pleased I've decided to lighten my course load."
She continued on in that vein, sounding almost breathless with excitement, but Ron soon found himself distracted by the sense of being watched. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the woman smiling at him like usual – but there was something different in her expression. It seemed almost sappy . . .
With a jolt of horror and reddening cheeks, recognition dawned. She thought – no! That was ridiculous. How could anyone –? Hermione, his girlfriend? A person would have to be an idiot to think . . .
But, of course, the woman didn't know Hermione. All she knew was that Ron was stammering and blushing and opting to use a public fellytone instead of the one in his home (because all Muggles owned them, apparently). She had no idea that he was only nervous because fellytones where a completely foreign concept to him and that he would much rather rely on the simple, comfortable ways of communication he had known since childhood.
"Ron?" Hermione's voice called in his ear, sounding irritated again. "Hello? Ron, you've got to keep the receiver to your ear! Hello? Have you even been listening to – "
"Er, yeah, sorry," he blurted, turning his back to the woman behind the counter (really, she was just silly thinking something like that . . .). "Listen, my dad got those tickets to the . . . to that thing I wrote you about last week."
"The thing you . . .? You mean the Quidditch World Cup?"
"Why can't you just say so? Are you feeling all right?"
His face flared hot once more and he lowered his voice, hoping a whisper could still carry to her through this bizarre device. "I'm on a public fellytone; I can't talk about wizard stuff."
"Felly –?" Hermione started. Then, with a sound between a sigh and laugh, she cried, "Telephone!"
"It's called a telephone, Ron. You didn't call it that in front of any Muggles, did you?"
"No," he said, instantly grateful he had used gestures instead of words upon entering the café. "Anyway, listen: Dad managed to score some tickets and he's wondering if you'd like to come." As the words tumbled from his lips, Ron was intensely aware of his oddly rapid pulse and the clamminess of his hand clutching the receiver.
"Oh, yes!" Hermione gushed at once, sending relief coursing through him. Why had he been so worried she might say otherwise? "It'll be wonderful to see you and your family and Harry again so soon! Harry is coming, isn't he?"
"Yeah, if those Mu – er, I mean, if his aunt and uncle will let him."
"Have you called him, as well?"
"No. I reckon his uncle won't take too kindly to me calling again. I sent him a letter."
"Oh." There was a pause during which Ron tried to decipher some hidden meaning in that single syllable. He didn't have to ponder long before she asked, "Why didn't you just owl me?"
"Well, I just – I didn't think it would be . . . . Sorry."
"No! It's all right. I'm not upset. Just curious, is all."
Staring down at his tattered, too-tight shoes and trousers that barely made it past his ankle, Ron found himself desperately wishing that he had nice, new, fitting clothing for her arrival. Never mind the fact that she was already perfectly aware of his family's financial situation.
"I just, er, wanted to know if you could come as soon as possible. I don't really have much option with Harry, but . . ."
He thought he heard a smile in her voice as she said, "All right then. I guess I'll be seeing you soon?"
"Yeah, definitely. Excellent. I'll see you then."
For a moment, there was only silence coming through the receiver (Ron thought he heard the woman behind the counter stifle a giggle). Shuffling his feet uncertainly, he asked, "Sh-should I hang up first or . . . . Does it matter?"
"It doesn't matter," Hermione said, and he thought he heard a trace of laughter in her voice.
"Right then. Er, bye."
With a click, she was gone, her warm voice replaced by another humming tone. Returning the receiver to its perch, he stared at it for a moment, not sure what to make of the bizarre Muggle contraption.
He was halfway to his house when he decided that he liked it. Owls, afterall, had never brought him Hermione's laughter.
Author's Notes: I actually wrote this drabble nearly a year ago when I was rereading the Harry Potter series. I don't have much to say about it - I just like the idea of Ron gradually becoming more self-conscious around Hermione during fourth year and not quite knowing why.
Disclaimer: The "Harry Potter" franchise is property of J. K. Rowling, whom I am in no way associated with.