Or, five conversations about Hermione Granger
The summer after Ron turned 14, his oldest brother tried to talk to him about women and how to get them to like you. Ron had insisted there was no reason for the chat, for he didn't know any women, and he didn't like any women, and he would much rather talk about Quidditch than birds. Bill had smirked at the time and raised one eyebrow like he knew something that his little brother didn't.
Ron hated that look.
"All right," Bill conceded, "we won't talk about girls. How about friends, then? Ginny won't stop talking about Harry, but I barely know anything about your other friend, Harmony."
"Hermione," Ron nearly growled at his brother. "Her name is Hermione. She's the best student in our year, and she's cool when she's not complaining about me and Harry breaking rules. She doesn't like flying and she doesn't really care about Quidditch, but she's excited about The World Cup cause she thinks it will be educational, or something. She's Muggle-born, so she's really interested in things that I think are completely normal." Ron stopped speaking when he realized Bill was smirking at him. "What?" Ron asked, suddenly annoyed.
"You know, for a bloke who says he doesn't want to talk about girls, you sure have a lot to say about this particular one." Ron blushed, and Bill's smile widened.
"She's not a girl, Bill," Ron said, as if the very idea was ridiculous. "She's my best friend."
"Right, of course. Sorry," Bill replied, but he didn't sound sorry at all.
When Ron was 15, he wondered when Bill had gotten so annoying. Sure, he was always at Hogwarts when Ron was young and then he was in Egypt, but he was sure he should have noticed sometime during Christmas and summer holidays that Bill was a pain in the arse.
He scowled as Bill gave him that I-know-something-you-don't-know look again.
"Strange, isn't it, that Hermione gave up half her summer with her parents to come here and clean this place up with you?" He had never heard Bill sound so smug.
"She's my friend," Ron whispered angrily, stressing the last word as much as he could without raising his voice.
"Of course she is. A very good friend, at that." Bill was smiling, but his eyes shone like the twins' did when they were only pretending to be nice. Ron glared and then looked away.
"Don't you have somewhere to be?" Ron asked.
"Nope. I'm completely free- until Mum realizes and makes me start working with you lot, I suppose. I'm not trying to bother you, Ronnie. I know she's nothing more than your friend. Fleur says she's dating Viktor Krum."
"She's not - She promised they were only - Fleur Delacour?" Ron willed his blush to subside as he spoke in half sentences.
"The one and only," Bill said with a grin.
"How do you know Fleur Delcacour?"
"She's my friend," Bill replied with a wink, and he ruffled Ron's hair on his way out of 12 Grimmauld Place's basement kitchen.
. . .
Ron was sitting by the pond when Bill found him.
"You ok?" he asked, and Ron felt his brother settle down beside him. Ron grunted noncommittally.
He was 16, and he did not want to talk about it.
"Are you still in pain?" Bill continued, gesturing to the raw wounds that wound themselves around Ron's arms.
Ron shrugged, unwilling to admit that he was.
"How is Hermione? I hear she took a nasty hit." Bill said.
"She's better," Ron said, his voice hoarse from underuse. "She said she's feeling better."
"That's good," Bill said, and Ron didn't have to look at him to know his brother was smiling knowingly. "I know how devastated you'd be if something were to happen to her."
Ron gulped and nodded. He knew what Bill was implying, but he didn't have the energy to argue (or was it lie?) anymore.
. . . .
At the age of 17, Ron learned that his oldest brother was not invincible. He watched Fleur spread a new helping of green goo on Bill's face before placing a kiss on his still-smooth forehead and leaving the brothers alone.
"I don't know how you do it, Bill," Ron said with a sigh. "You got chewed up and spit out by a werewolf, and the best looking bird in all of Europe still wants to marry you."
"She's a good woman," Bill said with a grin. "The good ones are there when things are bad."
"Yeah," Ron said in agreement. Bill gave him what Ron supposed was supposed to be a knowing look, but the effect was ruined by smelly salve that covered the large majority of his face. Ron laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation; Bill gestured rudely by way of a reply.
As Bill drifted off into a potion-induced sleep, Ron couldn't help but thinking of the girl sat at his bedside when he was recovering from a near-death experience. Yes, he knew who he could turn to in the worst of times; He just worried that he had ruined any chance he had at sharing the good ones with her as well.
. . . . .
Ron felt much older than 18 years old as he sat at the table in his oldest brother's kitchen.
"I'm sorry if I woke you," Ron said, as his brother entered the room and poured himself a cup of tea. Bill waved his hand in dismissal.
"Of all the things that keep me up at night, your inability to brew a cup of tea without causing a commotion is toward the bottom." Ron smiled weakly at his brother's joke.
"I'm sorry for dragging you into all this," Ron said, knowing that Bill wasn't complaining but feeling the need to apologize anyway.
"I'm glad you're here," Bill insisted. "I'm glad all of you are here."
"I'm glad we're here too," Ron said, thinking of the care Hermione had received since arriving at Shell Cottage. Fleur had insisted she was no healer, but she had carefully cared for each and every one of Hermione's wounds, both magical and physical. "I'm also glad your wife is a genius," Ron said, knowing Bill would understand.
"She is brilliant," Bill agreed with a grin. "Not quite as brilliant as your girl, but I don't think anyone is."
"She's not my girl," Ron argued, but he smiled anyway.
"She will be soon though, yeah?" Bill said, fixing his brother with a look Ron was all too familiar with.
"How many times are we going to have this conversation?" Ron asked, shaking his head at the familiarity of the exchange.
"That depends," Bill replied. "Are you planning on actually making a move before your next birthday?"
Ron met Bill's eyes, and he thought about answering his brother's question with a yes, or a no, or a maybe if I live that long.
Instead, Ron simply raised his eyebrows mischievously, did his best impression of Bill's patented I-know-something-you-don't-know look, and bid his brother goodnight.
"I'm going to assume that means you are," Bill called after Ron as he left the room.
Ron let him.
A/N: All right, so Hermione isn't technically in this story. I figured the whole thing was about her though, so she deserved top billing.