A/N: It seems like the millionth time that I've posted this story—once when I posted it originally, and then again when I posted the revised version. This will be the third time, overall, as it was erased along with my old account, but here it is again for any of you poor souls who might actually care ;P
Disclaimer: Harry Potter, etc, are the intellectual property of JKR; no infringement is intended.
The noise and bustle of London were especially loud that day, and could be heard all the way from a small patch of wilderness present somewhere along the Thames River. The sound of trolleys and tourists on the streets as well as that of boats conglomerated into a brouhaha of voices and engines no longer distinguishable from one another. The day was dark and gloomy, and from the banks of the river rose a mist thick and enveloping that added to the overall atmosphere of drear. From within the bushes, however, the top of two heads could be seen, upon which hair of the brightest red could be distinguished, clashing terribly with the rest of the scenery. The clouds above were dark and filled with rain that threatened to fall at any moment. It was early evening, but the dusky gloom made it look as if it were much later.
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this," came the voice of the tallest of the redheads from within the bushes. His voice was lined with what sounded like doubt, although it could have been contempt…presumably towards the shorter man. They were undoubtedly related to each other, as aside from their red hair, their features were also very similar.
"Trust me, Ronnie, it's for your own good," the other replied. He was undoubtedly the older of the two, his face revealing a kind of resolve that could only come from living and experiencing the world. He was darker in complexion than the other and his face, although quite handsome, was one that had faced many unkind elements. He was not yet thirty, but already small lines were starting to form at the corners of his eyes; very faint although they were, the lines were deeper and much more noticeable every time he smiled as he was now doing. His eyes were like a storm ravaged ocean, bordering between a clear blue and an angry grey although there was nothing angry about this man. On the contrary, he looked to be very kind, the type of man that one could fall in love with very easily if one was a woman, the type of person that one immediately felt at ease with if one was a man.
"Don't call me Ronnie, Charles," the youngest replied. Although he shared the other man's hair and some of his features, his complexion was lighter, creamier, with freckles still scattered across the bridge of his nose and across his cheeks. He looked much younger than the other did although he was probably in his early twenties. He was, like the other, a very handsome man; broad shoulders, and strong arms balanced his height, and his long legs were adequately muscled. At one point in his life, he must have been lanky, but the years had allowed him to grow into his limbs, and the results were by no means disappointing. His eyes, however, were the most striking for although they were blue, a shade darker than one would usually see, they betrayed within him a kind of angst, a pain of sorts, as if he'd seen many bad things in his short life and had lived to tell about them. He seemed to be overwrought with an extreme sadness, a pain deep within him, one that could only mean one thing: love.
"Sod-off, Ron, and grab the Portkey, already." His older brother's voice, for with that bickering they were obviously siblings, cut through his thoughts and he was forced to listen as a playful punch connected with his arm. "You know as well as I do that insulting me is not going to put off the inevitable forever. Loren is dying to see you again, although I have a feeling she must be a little mental to actually want to subject herself to your endless moping."
Ron smiled; the angst that had been present in his eyes was now replaced with the unmistakable sparkle of mischief. "She's a Muggle, Charlie. She can't help but be a little mental. I mean why else would she be dating you?" Ron smirked. Teasing his older brother was one of his favourite pastimes, and he especially loved to tease him on the subject of women, for although Charlie was attractive, and had the dangerous qualities that women seemed to gravitate towards, he had never held onto a girl for more than a few weeks. Ron knew, then, that Loren was special and that Charlie cared a great deal about her, for they had been seeing each other for two years. What was ironic, however, was that Loren was a Muggle…non-magic folk…and that everything that Charlie was accustomed to doing to impress women—brag about his work studying dragons, mostly—was completely moot when it came to her, as although she now knew that Charlie was a wizard, she had been oblivious to the fact when she had actually fallen in love with him.
"That's right, Ron, a Muggle who's not impressed by how many dragons I've captured and tamed, or how many containment spells I know. I won her over with my charming Weasley personality." Charlie was grinning, knowing full well that Ron was having a field day teasing him about his love life, but he couldn't help it…he was the luckiest man in the world, and the irony of Loren's Muggle status didn't escape him, although he reasoned that he'd inherited that particular fascination from his father who loved anything and everything having to do with Muggle folk—Charlie had just developed a fascination for someone rather than something, that was all.
"Enough, enough," Ron said, although he was smiling also. He took a step toward the smelly old boot that was serving as Portkey, a device that would instantly teleport him to a different location, "we had better go before the look on your face turns my stomach completely," he laughed. He was infinitely happy for his brother, and even happier for his mother who had been beginning to wonder when her son would finally settle down. Charlie aimed a rude hand gesture his way, but Ron only laughed harder and grabbed the Portkey. He emerged in a small wooded area, and Charlie appeared behind him a few seconds later. Ron wobbled slightly, trying to regain his balance as the world stopped spinning. If they hadn't had to travel so far, he would have opted not to take the Portkey, but crossing an ocean really couldn't be done as quickly using any other method. Charlie, however, stood stone steady…he was, after all, accustomed to travelling this distance as he did it every week, sometimes two or three times per. The accomplishment of Charlie's maintaining a relationship for two years was overshadowed by the fact that it had, in addition, been a long distance relationship. Ron regained his balance, and as soon as his vision had cleared he looked around him.
The weather here was much different from that of where they had been only moments before. For one, it was still light out and the temperature, although slightly colder, was dry and comfortable. Lazy white clouds hung in the clear blue sky above, and Ron breathed-in the clean air. He was still in London, but a completely different London. Charlie had explained to him how Loren lived in London, but not the same London that they knew. Having never taken geography, it had taken Ron a few tries before he understood that London, England, and London, Ontario, Canada were two different places that simply bore the same name. He took another deep breath. London, England could profit from taking a page from the Canadians' book. The air was clean and crisp, at least much more so than the smoggy mess the British breathed-in, and it revived him instantly; he felt an ounce more at peace than he had in months.
"This way," Charlie told him, his voice breaking through the peaceful sounds of nature. He began leading the way towards a tall apartment building a few feet away, his strides significantly springier at the prospect of seeing Loren. Ron simply smirked and followed him, biting back a comment of how their brother Percy had strutted in much the same way when he had become a prefect.
The outside of the building did not do justice to what could be found inside, for the exterior walls were built of decrepit beige aluminium betraying the époque during which the building had been erected. The inside, however, was stylishly decorated in French Renaissance style with lush carpeting, and plush chairs adorning the lobby where several reproductions hung on the wall in ornate gold frames. A man behind a tall wooden desk nodded at Charlie, recognising him instantly. He gave Ron a quizzical look, although he didn't say anything, his training having taught him not to question the whims of tenants.
"Mr. Weasley, good to see you again; Miss. Chapman is expecting you. Did you want me to ring her and inform her of your arrival?" he addressed Charlie in an oily voice bearing a very fake British accent. Ron didn't like him.
"Thank you, Jonathan, old chap, but I think I'd rather like to surprise her." Charlie was undoubtedly accustomed to the doorman's slimy disposition, as it did not seem to faze him in the least.
"Very well, sir; I'll call for the lift," the doorman replied, pressing a button and looking simply bored as he recited his memorised line. A set of double doors opened nearby, and Charlie motioned Ron to follow him inside where he pressed the number 4. Ron had been in a lift before, and for that reason he was not surprised when he felt the initial heavy feeling as the lift began its ascent to the fourth floor, and the concluding feeling of weightlessness as it came to a stop. The novelty had not worn off, however, for he still felt a sense of exhilaration as the ride ended and he followed Charlie into a long corridor, which was decorated in much the same way as the lobby. Charlie stopped at a door marked with the numbers 404 and knocked lightly. A minute later, a woman answered.
"Hi, you two," she greeted, ushering the two brothers inside with a wide grin and sparkly eyes. She was not very tall, the top of her head barely reaching Charlie's shoulder. Her hair was dark brown, long and shiny and presently hung loose, the ends reaching the middle of her shoulder blades. Her eyes were of a deep brown, although in the sunlight Ron knew that they could look almost green. Her smile was easily her best feature, for when she used it, it lit up her entire face, making her eyes sparkle and her cheeks rosy. As she smiled at the two men, neither could resist smiling back at her, her grin infectious. She greeted Ron first, raising herself on the tip of her toes to give him a kiss on the cheek, although he had to bend down slightly so that her lips could reach that far. She smiled, and drew him lower, embracing him in a sisterly hug; she had long ago come to accept what she had termed, to the Weasley family's amusement, her 'vertical impairment.'
"Hi, Loren. Sorry we're late," Ron told her, hugging her tightly. "Charlie here must have been primping for a good two hours before he was finally ready to go," he told her, with a grin. Loren was the type of person who had many personalities; Ron thought she was very much like his brother that way; she always had something in common with those she met, and for that reason everyone who came into contact with her liked her instantly. No matter how much trouble Ron gave Charlie about her, he didn't think he could have made a better choice had he searched the entire planet; he was terribly fond of Loren, and they had developed a close friendship. They wrote to each other often, and she had become a confidante of sorts for Ron.
Charlie gave his brother, who was still hugging Loren, a reprieving look before claiming back his girlfriend in a long embrace. She felt good in his arms, as if she's been moulded especially for them. The scent of her hair reached Charlie's nostrils, and he breathed it in deeply; he was home at last. "Don't listen to Ronnie, he's being a prat," he told her before kissing her briefly; her lips were warm and moist beneath his. He broke away reluctantly, but kept his arms around her just the same. She shifted in his arms, and turned her eyes to Ron's. Charlie knew the look on her face well; Loren and Ron, when they were together, took it upon themselves to tease him mercilessly.
"Two hours, eh?" she reiterated, in the odd accent of her Canadian English, mischief lining her every word and her eyes sparkling with it. Ron grinned, and played along.
"Yeah, he couldn't decide between the brown dragonhide pants with the black shirt, or the black dragonhide pants with the grey shirt. I finally convinced him that he looked like a git no matter what he wore." Ron looked his way, his expression a mirror image of Loren's, and Charlie raised his finger in Ron's direction once again. "He's been having a real problem with that hand, today," Ron said, looking down at Charlie's hand and raising his eyebrows in mock wonder. Loren, who was accustomed to her boyfriend's retorts dissolved in a fit of giggles before raising her arms and linking them around Charlie's neck where her fingers came to rest in his hair.
"We're just teasing you, honey," she told Charlie whose face, with lips in a slight pout, and eyes large and pleading, resembled that of a puppy. She pulled his head down and drew his lips to hers, kissing him briefly. She pulled-away and immediately began laughing when Charlie's pout became even more pronounced so that she'd kiss him again.
Ron looked away, something closely resembling jealousy gnawing at his insides. It was not that he was uncomfortable seeing Loren and Charlie act this way; in fact, he was accustomed to seeing this type of exchange between the two. Still, seeing them so happy with each other, so in love only served to remind him that he was alone and that, like Charlie, there was only one woman whom he could see himself spending the rest of his life with. It was a pity, then, that said woman would probably never love him back.
Loren and Charlie broke apart after a few minutes, and Loren seemed to realise that Ron was less enthused than he had been a moment before. They were still standing in the entryway, and Charlie's arms were still about her waist. She glanced at Ron, and met his eyes, which had an ounce less sparkle than they'd held before. She was well versed in his female problems although they were the one area of Ron's life that he wasn't keen on discussing in detail with her; what she had gathered, she had done so from snippets that she'd heard from his family. Sensing that Ron was feeling uncomfortable, Loren broke away from Charlie's embrace and tactfully suggested that they move into the living room where they would be more at ease.
Lauren's apartment was just as stylish as the lobby and hallway had been, although its atmosphere was far from being as sterile. On the contrary, the second Ron had walked into the living room he got a sense of Loren's passion for life. The apartment was large, larger than the Weasleys could have ever hoped for, for the living quarters of just one person. It was a three-bedroom flat, but only two of the bedrooms served as such while the third was Loren's library and sitting room. The main living area, which off-set the kitchen, as tastefully decorated with comfortable chairs, a cream-coloured rug on the floor and more photographs than Ron had ever seen in a single room. There were shelves of them lining the walls, frames adorning almost every ounce of free space on tables, and even a few small ones on top of the television in the corner.
Ron walked to one of the walls and peered at a few of the frames: a lot of the pictures were of Loren and Charlie, as Ron could have guessed, but several of them were also of the Weasley family. All had been taken with a Muggle camera (Ron seriously doubted that Loren's Muggle friends would have failed to notice photographs of moving people in her home), and Ron recognised pictures of a family picnic they'd had the first time Loren had come to stay at the Burrow. It had been the first time the Weasleys had met any of Charlie's girlfriends, and that was what had first tipped them off that Loren wasn't like the other women he'd dated. At that point they had been dating for six months, and Charlie had only just told Loren about his being a wizard. Ron smiled at the memory of Loren's discomfort when she had first been immersed in their magical world. He knew she must have been terrified, but she had handled herself extraordinarily well. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had loved her instantly.
"I remember that," Charlie said, standing behind Ron and looking at the picture over his shoulder. Ron turned and gave him a brief smile.
"Poor Loren, she mustn't have known what she was getting herself into," he laughed, also remembering how Charlie had threatened Fred and George with severe bodily harm if they did anything that would have scared Loren into leaving him. "Either that, or she's completely daft and hasn't come to her senses, yet," he teased some more.
"I don't remember any time I've been more afraid than when I had to meet your parents," Loren said, having come to stand by the two of them. "It didn't matter to me that everything I had ever grown-up to believe about magic was completely false, and that the world as I knew it was a complete lie. When Charlie asked me to fly down to London and meet all of you, I thought I would faint; I was shaking so badly," she said.
"I know; when I first said hello to you, you looked as if you were about to throw up," Ron said, laughing. Loren and Charlie joined-in, and they were soon reminiscing about old times as they looked at the other pictures. Ron stopped again to look at a picture of him posing with Loren. That particular picture had been taken during the summer that had just gone by; it had been almost dusk, and the sun was starting to set behind the Burrow, casting an orange glow over everything. Ron's arm was around Loren's shoulder and they were both laughing. Loren's head was turned to look up at Ron, but Ron was looking just beyond the camera, at the person taking the picture.
"You can have it, if you want," Loren said, interrupting Ron's train of thoughts, for which he was momentarily thankful. He was about to refuse Loren's offer; the words 'no thank you' were on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn't quite bring himself to do it.
"Thanks, Loren," he said instead, smiling sadly. She nodded and smiled back, a reassuring smile that told him that she understood what he was going through and was there if he needed her but wouldn't push the subject until he was ready to talk about it. Ron nodded, and accepted the picture frame without trepidation when Loren took it from the wall and handed it to him.
"Well," she said, this time addressing both Charlie and Ron, "dinner's just about ready. Why don't you two set the table?" and with that they followed her towards the kitchen, Ron waiting until she was out of ear shot before turning to Charlie.
"Is it safe, you think?" he whispered, referring to Loren's cooking which he had never actually experienced, but had heard several horror stories about.
"It should be; even I admit she's gotten better, although I would keep a glass of water next to your plate just in case," Charlie whispered back.
"Do you guys want anything to drink?" Loren called as they began setting knives and forks on the table.
"Water," they both responded automatically, trying to keep the looks on their faces as neutral as they possibly could.
There was a five-hour time gap between England and Canada, and although it was only 7pm Eastern Time, it was midnight Greenwich Mean Time. Charlie, who was used to going to bed early due to his line of work, had fallen asleep almost immediately after supper. He had been completely jet-lagged, although the proper term was more like key-lagged. He presently lay curled-up on Loren's long couch where he had lain down when they had retired to the living room for after-dinner tea. He was covered by a fuzzy pink blanket that Loren had placed over him and that clashed severely with his red hair—the Weasley family trademark. His head lay in her lap where she lazily stroked his hair with one hand, while drinking from a steaming mug with the other. Charlie's hair hung over his collar in soft waves, and Loren had always referred to it as 'run your hands through' kind of hair. It was silky soft to the touch, and it smelled slightly spicy like a mix between cloves and cinnamon. He was snoring softly, and at this Loren smiled. She would never get tired of this, would never get tired of him. A look of tenderness momentarily overtook her features as she pulled the blanket more snugly around Charlie before she turned to Ron who was sitting in a lazy boy chair on her right. Dinner had gone well; the roast hadn't burnt, the vegetables hadn't been too soft, and the mashed potatoes hadn't had a single lump, nor did the gravy. She knew Charlie liked to complain about her cooking, but she really wasn't that bad at it…although given Charlie's gourmet abilities, she did pale in comparison. Ron had asked for thirds, and had complimented her several times, almost as if he'd been surprised that she was no longer completely hopeless in the kitchen. She had to laugh at that, and made a mental note to say something to Charlie later.
"So tell me how you've been doing, Ron. I haven't seen Pig in at least a month; I'm starting to miss the little feather ball." It took Ron a few seconds to realise that she was addressing him, as he had been engulfed in the revelry that the chair reclined at the pull of a little lever in its side. He'd been in a good mood all through dinner, but as the night had progressed he had reverted back to his glum mood.
"What? Oh, things are fine, I guess. Harry and Ginny are dating now; actually they have been for months, but they only just worked up the courage to tell me. Harry actually thought I'd be upset that he was dating my baby sister, but of course I could see it coming," he told her. Ginny had actually told Loren of her relationship with Harry when Loren had flown to London over the summer, but she didn't dare mention this to Ron; instead, she urged him to go on. "Ginny's been mooning over Harry ever since she was ten, and of course I could see that Harry wasn't completely oblivious to her charms. I mean, every one could see it except them. It's about time they got their heads out of the sand, and saw things clearly."
Loren couldn't help but smile. She knew of at least two other people who were obviously completely infatuated with each other, and from what Charlie had told her, the entire Weasley clan were also of that opinion. They even had wagers placed on when the two would come to their senses, if it ever did happen at all. She had to bite down on her lower lip to stop herself from saying anything about it. She knew from experience that Ron was touchy about the subject of him and this other person as a couple. She had tried to talk to him about it once, when he was having an especially difficult spell of accepting his "best friend's" new boyfriend. Although he had been more receptive to her than to his family with the subject, he still refused to go into detail and she knew that the subject was still posing difficulties for him as she had witnessed when he had been looking at the photographs in the living room. It had been Hermione who had taken that picture. They had all been laughing at something she had said to Ron…Hermione had been teasing him as usual…and if you looked closely, the picture was just a bit askew because Hermione had been laughing so hard she'd had trouble keeping the camera straight.
"So, how's Hermione doing?" Loren asked Ron, instead of the million other questions she could think of. She felt a little bit badly about bringing up a subject she knew he deemed painful, but the reason Charlie had dragged him to see her, she knew, was because the Weasleys were worried about him: he had spent the last few months moping around aimlessly, and was regressing more and more as the days passed. Loren was not a big fan of abruptness, but she felt that this situation called for nothing else. She could almost guess the answer to her question when Ron visibly flinched at the sound of Hermione's name.
"Hermione and I are not exactly on speaking terms, right now," Ron told Loren, his voice strained.
Loren bit back the urge to say 'what did you do now' and instead asked Ron, with a hint of amusement in her voice, "what happened?" She knew the Weasley men well, and Ron resembled Charlie in more than one way; like his brother, Ron had a knack of getting himself into situations that other men would have had no problem avoiding…it was a part of his charm, a naivete of sorts that Loren had found alluring when she'd met Charlie. Of course, there were only a few women in the world that could deal with this kind of ineptitude towards the opposite sex, and Loren knew that when it came to Ron, Hermione was the best woman for the job.
"Nothing I care to discuss, actually," Ron told her, a hint of stubbornness in his voice. He looked at Loren to gauge her reaction. She was giving him an 'I'm not impressed' look, the kind his mother gave him as a child when she was trying to get him to confess to something she already knew he was responsible for. "Oh, fine," he conceded, "Hermione's angry with me because she broke up with the wanker she's been dating." Loren was accustomed to Ron's colourful language, and though she was not a native of Britain, she had caught-on to much of the slang the British used. Words like 'wanker', 'bloody', and expressions like 'swamp donkey' and other imaginative descriptions of people were not new to her. It was a rare occurrence when Ron didn't write to Loren speaking badly about the latest of Hermione's suitors, and she wasn't surprised at the turn that this conversation seemed to be taking.
"She's angry with you because she broke up with him? That makes no sense, Ronald Weasley, what are you not telling me?" She had learned a long time ago that with the Weasley men there was always something they were omitting. This was especially true for Fred and George, the twins, who seemed to get into trouble more often than any of the four other boys put together.
"Charlie never told me you were such a nag," Ron said bitterly; she knew him too well, and although he liked the fact that she didn't let Charlie get away with anything, his opinion differed drastically when it came to himself. Loren smiled and nodded, not fazed by Ron's behaviour. If all men were the same, the Weasley men were identical to one another: they all hated to admit they were wrong.
"I'll take that into consideration," she told him, biting down a smirk. Ron was much like a child…as was Charlie in many ways…and it was very difficult for Loren to remain neutral when she scolded either of them. She knew that in theory she shouldn't encourage their escapades, but at the same time, most of what they did was so ridiculously juvenile in nature that she often had to resist the urge to burst out laughing.
"Hermione is angry with me," he continued, albeit reluctantly, "because she says that the reason her relationship with what's his arse didn't work out is that I sabotaged it by threatening to hex him." Ron looked down, a smile slowly appearing on his face—he was obviously guilty as charged.
"What exactly did you say to this, um, what's his arse?" Loren asked him, very amused by the whole situation but trying hard not to look too amused lest Ron think she actually condoned his behaviour. This would not be the first of Hermione's boyfriends to be scared away by an overprotective 'friend'.
"I was just doing my duty as a best friend," he defended himself. "I was merely giving him the perfunctory 'you hurt him, I hurt you' speech, you know. Harry wasn't around and someone had to let him know whom he was dealing with. I really can't be held responsible if he took it to heart."
"And how exactly did you deliver this speech, Ron? Or do I want to know?" Loren asked, bracing herself. This promised to be rather interesting.
"Well," Ron said sheepishly, "I sort of told him that I had connections to the last Death Eaters and that if Hermione suffered as much as a paper cut because of him he would lead a lifetime of pain." He looked up for a split second, and his blue eyes met Loren's. Loren couldn't help it; this was too much for her. She burst-out laughing, and Ron followed suit. "It was worth it to see his face," Ron continued, gasping for breath, "he turned all pale, and excused himself from the dinner table, then went into the kitchen and gave Hermione a lame excuse and practically ran-out the door." They were both laughing so hard that they had tears running out the corners of their eyes. Loren was no witch, but she knew enough of the wizarding world to know about the fall of Voldemort and his followers—those who called themselves Death Eaters—she also knew Ron well enough to know that if anyone was furthest away from being such a person, it was he…anyone who took the time to speak to him for more than five minutes would surely realise this and that alone made what Ron told her even more amusing.
Loren tried to laugh quietly so as not to wake Charlie who still slept beside her. She tried to control the hiccups that were racking her body as she attempted to catch her breath. Tears of mirth were pouring down her cheeks, and she had to keep her hand over her mouth so as not to make too much noise; still, after a few minutes, she felt Charlie's body lurch as he was awoken suddenly.
"Wha'? What's going on?" Charlie asked, sitting upright on the couch with a loud snort, his longish hair sticking-up in odd places. At this Ron and Loren only laughed more loudly. The disoriented look on Charlie's face was priceless. He was looking frantically to the sides, regaining his bearings, and as he realised where he was, he shot Loren and Ron a groggy, unimpressed look.
"We're sorry, honey," Loren told him, still giggling, though she knew Charlie would have a terrible time falling asleep again, "why don't you go lie down in my room, you'll be more comfortable." Loren's bedroom, which she shared with Charlie on weekends, was the furthest away from the kitchen and living room. She sensed that she and Ron would be up for a while, and at least Charlie would be less likely to be disturbed by their ramblings. Charlie seemed reluctant to leave at first; as people are sometimes irrational when they're tired, Charlie was doubly so. He scowled at Ron—though it was a half-hearted scowl as he yawned in the middle of it—for taking up all of his girlfriend's attention, and then proceeded to lean-down and kiss Loren lightly on the lips before staggering, still half-asleep, towards her bedroom, scratching his head and dragging the fuzzy pink blanket on the floor behind him. She smiled after him, and turned back to Ron who was wiping the tears off his cheeks and trying to catch his breath. He was used to his brother's temporary lapses of judgement and gave no second thought to his behaviour.
"That was the funniest thing I've seen in ages," Ron said, referring to Charlie, "a grown man who captures dragons for a living, but who looks just like a four year old child when he's asleep."
"Don't be so quick to talk, Ron, the two of you are a lot alike, probably more than you realise," Loren reprimanded him although she too saw the humour in the situation.
"Why's that?" Ron asked her, always game when it came to hearing embarrassing stories about his brothers. Years of torment from them when he was little had yielded in him an appetite for humiliating stories like he'd never possessed before.
"This whole thing with Hermione, the way you're strategically eliminating all the men in her life like the pieces on a chessboard," Ron went to interrupt but Loren put her hand up to silence him; she knew chess was one of Ron's favourite pastimes, and she used the analogy purposely, knowing it would make her point more easily. "Don't deny it, Ron. I understand you have your reasons, even though I'll admit that there are better ways to go about what you're trying to achieve. Still, it reminds me a lot of the way Charlie acted before we started dating. You Weasleys are awfully territorial when it comes to the women you care about."
"How exactly did Charlie act?" Ron asked, his curiosity piqued. Had he been less anxious to hear how Loren was going to connect this story to his behaviour, Ron would have probably rubbed his hands together and let out an evil laugh at the anticipation to hear a story of Charlie in a compromising situation.
"Hermione doesn't have any brothers you don't know about, does she?" Loren asked. Ron looked at her queerly, not exactly understanding where the question was coming from. He knew Loren to be an intelligent woman, and trusted that this rubbish about brothers was going to lead somewhere, so he didn't question her.
"No, she's an only child; why?" he answered.
"Let's just say that the circumstances under which Charlie and my brother met weren't the most ideal. Charlie saw us hugging, and immediately jumped to the wrong conclusions. Your dad had to conjure up a memory charm and a half to get my brother to forget all the awful things Charlie accused him of; and, of course, there was that extra arm growing out of the back of his head that had to be taken care of."
"What!?" Ron exclaimed, "Charlie never told me that!" That was, indeed, the first that Ron had heard of that story. Now that he thought about it, he could picture Charlie reacting that way quite easily. After all, had he not, just seconds ago, given Ron a look that could have frozen lava? For Charlie to think, even for a second, that his own brother was out to steal his girlfriend wasn't unheard of, but whereas a few years ago he would have gotten into an open brawl with anyone, Ron had to admit that he'd become surprisingly tamer over that past few years. Ron couldn't blame Charlie for being so protective of Loren, however; Ron knew that if he himself were dating someone as wonderful, he'd have an awfully hard time of not believing that the entire situation was a complete fluke and that it was only a matter of time before the woman came to her senses and realised she was dating a complete prat…he imagined that was the way Charlie felt about Loren, although from an objective standpoint, Ron knew just how crazy Loren was about his brother and that Charlie had absolutely nothing to worry about.
"Please don't tell him I told you, he's awfully embarrassed about the whole thing," Loren told him, catching the glint in Ron's eye. "But, after that happened, he finally learned to control his temper—something maybe you should consider doing when it comes to Hermione. I told him he could either trust me entirely, or he could never see me again. I was so scared that he would choose the latter. That's when I knew how much I loved him, when I was faced with the possibility of losing him. I hope you never feel like that, Ron, and that's why I think you should come clean to Hermione."
"I can't believe you thought Charlie would let you go. He may be a little mental, but he's not that daft. You're the best thing that's ever happened to him. You should see the way he looks at you. Frankly, it's a little nauseating." Ron thought it was actually kind of sweet, but never ever would he admit to that—it would go against every manly principle he possessed.
"I bet it's the same way you look at Hermione, Ron. I know you hate this subject, and if you want me to drop it I will, really, but well I'm a psychologist. It's natural for me to want to know what you're thinking." Loren was a perceptive person; it didn't take an expert to know that Ron was absolutely nutters for Hermione, but she had never actually heard it come from his own mouth. If the first part to overcoming an addiction was to admit to having a problem, then the first step in Ron's overcoming his problems with Hermione was to admit that he had more than platonic feelings towards her.
"Why do I have the sense that you already know what I'm thinking?" Ron asked, his ears turning red at the notion. Loren did have a very good idea of what he was thinking, but she knew it had to come from him if he was going to face the situation he was in. "What do you want me to tell you? That I'm crazy about Hermione? Well I am. Do you want me to tell you that every time I see her with a new guy it feels like part of me is being ripped to shreds? That every time she looks at me with those eyes, or corrects something I say, that starting a fight with her is the only way I know to stop myself from taking her into my arms and kissing her senseless? She's to me what you are to Charlie, Loren. He loves you like I love her, only you love him too. All I am to Hermione is a friend; she'll never look at me the way that you look at Charlie," he broke off, his voice a mere whisper. Loren could practically hear his heart breaking. She wanted nothing more than to sweep him in a protective hug, and reassure him that things would be alright, but she knew from experience that she couldn't do that. She hated having to act so cold and professional…treating Ron almost like she would treat a patient, but in this case she felt that she had no choice. She had to remain cool and composed, no matter that she felt the complete opposite. Her heart went out to him, it really did.
"Ron? Have you ever thought of telling Hermione what it is you just told me?" She asked him in her best clinical voice.
"You're jesting, right?" he asked, incredulous—not at her tone of voice, but at what it was she was asking him to do. He could never tell Hermione how he felt. Sure, he'd thought about doing just that more times than he cared to remember, but one couldn't just waltz up to his best friend and announce that he was completely bonkers for her. Life just didn't work that way—plus he was scared stiff that she'd laugh in his face, or worst yet never speak to him again.
"No, I'm absolutely serious. Ron, you have known Hermione for almost twelve years; you've known me for two. If you can tell me, your brother's girlfriend, how you feel, then you can tell Hermione. She's your best friend, and you love her. She loves you too, you know that, but the only way you'll find out if she loves you the way you want her to is if you talk to her. Don't wait until it's too late." Ron looked at her with a mixture of incredulity and consideration. What Loren was telling him seemed completely crazy, much too crazy to actually work, but then again Ron never had gotten around to understanding the opposite sex and Loren did know what she was talking about. Just as those thoughts crossed Ron's mind, however, he dismissed them as yet another bout of temporary insanity. No, he just couldn't tell Hermione, it was much too risky.
"Loren?" he addressed her, trying to turn the subject away from where it was headed; he simply wasn't ready to deal with the consequences of the matter.
"Yeah, Ron?" she replied, afraid she may have gone too far.
"You're not 'just' my brother's girlfriend, you know. I kind of think of you like a second sister, only better because you can't tease me about what I tell you. Charlie would've been a git not to fall in love with you," he told her, his ears practically glowing at the somewhat corny revelation. "I'll think about what you said." He gave her a brotherly kiss on the cheek, and muttered his goodnights before heading to the guest bedroom.
Loren looked at her watch. It was now well after eleven; they'd been talking for almost four hours. Locking the doors, and turning off the lights she made her way to her bedroom. Charlie woke up and slipped his arms around her as she slid under the covers.
"What were you and my baby brother talking about this whole time?" he asked her, his voice mirroring his pout as he nuzzled her neck.
Loren smiled, and replied "I think Ron has finally come to his senses concerning Hermione," she told him, nuzzling back. Charlie placed a kiss on her temple and tightened his arms around her.
"Hmmm, I knew there was a reason I fell in love with you," Charlie grinningly teased, before dodging a pillow aimed at his head and returning the attack with renewed alertness. Loren giggled and shrieked as their pillow fight turned into an all-out wrestling match, and they finally collapsed, Charlie on top of her and supporting himself on his forearms as they caught their breath, before he leaned-in and kissed her senseless.
Ron lay in bed, his arms crossed behind his head. He was thinking about Hermione—who else? She had possessed his every waking thought and dream since he'd realised that she was more than a friend—so much more. He thought about what Loren had told him; maybe she was right. Consciously, or not, Ron had always somehow gotten in the way of Hermione's relationships with men. He couldn't stand the idea of her in the arms of someone else, her kissing someone else's lips, her—well he didn't really want to think about that either. Surely she must have some idea of the way he felt for her? For four years, since they'd left Hogwarts, he'd made it a point of seeing her every free moment he had. They had dinner together every Sunday night (those were going to become significantly better now that the latest wanker was out of the picture) and he practically lived in her flat, he spent so much time there. Hermione never seemed to complain, though; it was as if she wanted to be around Ron as much as he wanted to be around her. Of course, to her he was just a friend.
Their friendship had escalated to a whole new level as they'd grown older. Sure, they remained the three musketeers: Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Still, their individual friendships had evolved. Harry was like a brother to Ron; the fact that he was dating Ron's little sister didn't hurt either, and yet Ron still felt reserved around Harry. Ron still hadn't told Harry about his feelings for Hermione, although he had a strong suspicion that, like Loren, Harry knew something was going on but said nothing out of respect for Ron.
Harry and Hermione both worked at the Ministry, and both shared information that Ron usually wasn't privy to; he was sometimes jealous of their work relationship, and the late nights they would sometimes spend working on a project, but he conceded that if he couldn't trust Harry (who he would beat to a bloody pulp if he ever did anything to hurt his sister, anyway) then he couldn't trust anyone. He thought of some of their Hogwarts school mates: Parvati and Lavender, Seamus and Dean—the last he had heard they didn't even speak to each other anymore, their friendships having failed the test of time. If he thought about it, most of the people who had been inseparable in their childhood days barely had time for each other, now. There had to be a reason that Harry, Hermione, and he were still together, then.
Maybe sharing so many near-death experiences somehow brought people closer to one another, Ron thought, smiling. The defeat of Lord Voldemort certainly had taken its toll on all of them; Harry had ended up unconscious in the hospital wing for nearly a month, both Ron's legs had needed mending, and Hermione had suffered several gashes including one just above her left eye that had left a minute scar which you could see only if you knew to look for it. Ron smiled; there were only two things that he was certain about in his life. One was the fact that he loved Hermione above all else in the world, the other was that no matter what happened, Harry and Hermione would always stand by him just as he would always stand by them. He had to know; Loren was right, Hermione and he had been friends for twelve years. He had to tell her how he felt before it was too late; it would be worst for him never to be able to tell her what she meant to him than it would be to know that she didn't feel the same way. They would always be friends, but if there was some chance for them to be more, Ron had to take it.
The sound of muffled giggles reached him from the next room, and Ron smiled a bit. He had no desire whatsoever to know exactly what his brother and Loren were doing, but whatever it was they were having the time of their life. Ron had imagined Hermione and him happy like that so many times that on some occasions it felt so real to him that he had to remind himself that it was only wishful thinking. Maybe one day they really would be as close as Charlie and Loren were, but if he did nothing to help the situation along, there was little chance of that happening. Nothing ventured, nothing gained a voice in his head whispered, and Ron sighed. Once a fool, always a fool another voice retorted, bent on keeping Ron's spirits low.
"Shut up," Ron said, addressing both voices even though he knew they were in his head. There was something about hearing voices that no one else could hear…hadn't he warned Harry about just that once upon a time?
"Bugger, Hermione really is driving me crazy," he spoke again. There was something very liberating about being able to talk to oneself, of course it was also slightly disturbing. Ron punched his pillow a few times to fluff it up, and buried his head underneath it drowning out both errant giggles and unwelcome voices as he tried in vain to get some sleep. Loren was right…he had to say something before he went completely crazy.