Illusion of Central Position
Author's notes: Set at some point during Harry's second week of detention, before the trio have their conversation about Harry becoming their new DADA teacher. I realize they haven't seen Lockhart at St. Mungo's by this point, but they've known about his amnesia since book 2, so I hope you feel it's still valid to have them discuss it.
I'm hardly an expert on Freud, and neither is Hermione supposed to be. You can leave corrections in the review section, if you feel like it.
And yes, I do realize the Ron/Hermione in this probably isn't very original. So many people have written R/Hr and already covered it from pretty much every angle, so it tends to get unavoidably repetitive. I hope you still enjoy it.
It was the same as it'd been from the start of term. It was late, Hermione was already done with her homework, Ron and Harry were still struggling, and Hermione was keeping them company in the common room out of solidarity. The only difference was that this time, instead of knitting clothes (if you could call them clothes) for house elves, in order to "give" them freedom, she had her nose in a book.
Which gave Ron an excellent excuse to get "distracted" from writing his dream diary for Trelawney.
"What's that you're reading now?" asked Ron abruptly, in this low, caramel murmur of a voice that seemed to vibrate in her abdomen and made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. Hermione tensed as he leaned forward to see the book, his shoulder brushing hers. The voice had startled her; he'd nearly sounded like a grown man. Did this mean he was almost nearing the end of his voice changing process? Time went by so fast, didn't it?
"Oh. Um, I've been reading some Freud in my spare time…you know, just a few minutes here and there. I wanted to finish it during the summer, but what with all the cleaning and—"
"Froyd? What, you didn't have enough subjects this year, so you decided to bring another one?"
At this thoughtless comment, Hermione sat up straighter, forgetting her sudden shyness. "Sigmund Freud is only the father of modern psychology and psychoanalysis, Ron!"
Glancing up from his Transfiguration essay, Harry just barely managed to suppress the urge to curse under his breath. Instead, he resigned himself to hoping this wasn't heading where it sounded like it was heading.
"Honestly! I understand why most Muggles know nothing of the Wizarding world, since the Ministry works so hard at keeping it a secret, but really…wizards and witches know the Muggle world exists, so you'd think they'd show a little more curiosity!"
"Well, I'm dreadfully sorry," retorted Ron, affecting a formal tone, "would it make you happy if I started collecting plugs like my Dad?"
Hermione glared. "I just think it's sort of insulting that your lot doesn't—"
"Err, psychoanalysis is sort of like healing," Harry interrupted hastily, before the discussion could turn into a row. "Healing for your mind instead of your body, I suppose. And of course they don't use magic…they sort of just talk it out instead," he went on uncertainly, adding: "It's for mental problems."
"Thank you, Harry," said Hermione primly.
Ron blinked. "So in the Muggle world, Lockhart would've been taken to see one of these…psycho anal…?"
"Psychologists…and no, Ron," Hermione said with barely concealed offence. "His case is pretty serious, so he…I don't know, he would've probably been sent to a mental facility where there are psychiatrists, who also have the right to prescribe medicine. Sometimes only talking doesn't help. Of course, considering his problem was caused by magic, and isn't regular amnesia, I doubt medicine or talking would help...but then the Muggle doctors wouldn't know that."
"So what's this bloke Froyd on about?" Ron prompted, getting himself more comfortable on his chair. She was really getting warmed up now.
"Well...I'm currently reading about the illusion of central position theory."
It was dawning on Hermione that Ron was in fact now doing the exact same thing she'd accused him of neglecting; showing interest in the Muggle world. When she answered him next, she was unable to suppress a smile. "Central position theory. It comes from when we're infants, when we're used to have a completely central position— meaning when we cry, somebody changes our nappies, and…I dunno, maybe if we cry harder, they'll feed us, that sort of thing— in short, we're used to the world immediately responding to our wishes, to getting everything we want."
Ron gave a satisfied grin of realization. "So…we were basically all Malfoys, then?"
To his delight, Hermione laughed. He found himself rushing in to make another joke. "Hey, d'you reckon there's a type of Muggle medicine that could cure Malfoyism?"
"Ron!" she objected, but there was still laughter in her voice as she reached out and playfully slapped his arm. His skin tingled at the contact in a way that had nothing to do with pain.
"No, seriously, is there?" he prodded, irrationally wanting her to slap him again. Or better yet; simply rest her hand on his arm for a moment.
This time, she didn't laugh, but fixed him with a look that told him she was going to get the conversation back on topic. "But now we're growing up, all that's changed."
He gave a mock gasp, still hoping for another laugh: "You mean we don't expect the world to revolve around us anymore? Shocking."
"Some days I wish the world didn't seem to revolve around me," muttered Harry sarcastically, making a disgusted face.
Surprisingly, Hermione didn't start chastising or comforting Harry for his negativism as usual, but rather barked a startled laugh. "Exactly!"
Harry blinked. "What?"
"You see, the funny thing is that when we're older, we often still see the world as revolving around us, we still have that illusion of central position, it's just that now we expect the opposite of what we want, as if the world is defying us. So really, it's still all about us!"
Ron looked incredulous. "What, like if it rains on the day we're havin' a Quidditch match, we think the…the weather is doing it on purpose to spite us?"
"Good example, Ron!" praised Hermione, pleased that he was paying attention, asking questions and even contributing with something other than a joke. Whenever he showed her genuine interest, it was as if it set her head and entire body buzzing gently with gratification.
Harry tilted his head, frowning, before chuckling. "I think I actually have thought that at some point."
"Or if there's liver and onions for tea when you want steak and kidney pie, that means the world hates you?" Ron suggested, rolling his eyes. "But that's just rubbish, right? I mean, we may say stuff like that, but that's just, y'know, us being all sarcastic, it doesn't mean we actually think we're the victim of some kind of conspiracy against us!"
"Except I sort of am," Harry said brightly, "although unfortunately it doesn't involve pie."
This attempt at gallows humour fell flat before its intended audience. Harry groaned inwardly as he saw the solemn and slightly shocked looks on their faces; as he caught them glancing at each other, communicating silently.
"Well, yes," Hermione conceded eventually, her voice carefully neutral, "I suppose it's a bit more literal in your case, Harry…or at least in the Wizarding world."
"Hang on a bloody minute," Ron piped up, thankfully interrupting the awkward moment. His face wore a rather dubious expression. "Froyd? I think I have heard of that geezer, come to think of it! Isn't he the nutter who said we'd all like to murder our dads and... and, ugh, do…really inappropriate things to our mums?"
Hermione's face went pink. "That's the Oedipus theory, and yes, that's Freud— and it's not as cut and dried as you make it sound, it's all about subconscious desires and symbolism and…I don't know, I think I need to read a bit more on the subject, I'm really not quite— well, anyway, normal people don't actually want to kill their— Freud didn't mean—"
"What're you like, Hermione? What're you listening to that barmy bloke for, if that's the sort of mad things he comes up with?"
"I'm not 'listening' to him, I just find it interesting. I'll be reading other people's theories as well, when I have the time. Freud is, after all, seen as very controversial in a lot of areas. For one thing, his views on women are…highly questionable, but he's still an important part of Muggle history."
"Oh, so I'm not the only one who thinks he's mad, then? Good to know." Ron turned to Harry. "Never mind, mate, don't bother listening to that psycho babble."
"Thanks, Ron." Harry nodded slowly, now preoccupied with surreptitiously examining his injured hand, suppressing a wince as he experimentally opened and closed it. The sight made something occur to him, then: "And forget Malfoy, anyway. Who's a better example of your theory than Umbridge, Hermione?"
"Ugh, if it's all the same to you, Harry, please don't ever put my name that close to hers in a sentence again," Hermione said, shuddering. "And it's not my theory."
Ron laughed, shaking his head.
"Sorry." Harry gave a sardonic grin in agreement. "She really does expect the world to do and be exactly what she says, though. I mean, she makes up all these little rules and regulations and acts like she's been slapped every time somebody doesn't follow them down to the tiniest detail."
"I'd like to slap her," said Hermione, under her breath. This time, both Harry and Ron grinned.
Leaning back heavily in his favourite squashy armchair, Harry let out an explosive sigh. "She expects a school full of teenagers— even people who are already of age, mind you— to act like sweet, obedient little children just because she talks down to them as though they are."
"Yeah, I've seen her, seen the look on her face," Ron said, pulling a disgusted grimace. "That bloody hag loves havin' it all be about her, loves every little scrap of power she can get her hands on. Loves hearin' her own horrible voice."
Harry nodded fervently. "Worst of all, she expects You-Know-Who, in the face of all evidence, not to be back just because that's the way she and her precious Ministry would like it to be."
Hermione gave Harry an empathetic look. "Not that I don't still think it's a bad idea to make claims about You-Know-Who in class, but…of course I do understand why she makes you, especially you, so furious. It must be like being told the Earth is flat or something, and being punished when you object and present evidence to the contrary, not being listened to and not being able to do anything about it!"
Ron leaned forward, face full of earnest outrage. "Yeah, and after all you've been through, mate, both before that utter toad arrived here, and after, it's— it's a disgrace, is what it is!"
"And 'high inquisitor'!" Hermione scoffed. "Who does she think she's actually fooling? Might as well just call herself a political spy and be done with it!"
"Got a lot more than she bargained for with McGonagall, though, didn't she?" Ron shot in smugly, for what was probably the tenth time that week. When she was sure he wasn't looking, Hermione smiled fondly at him. They'd all been chuffed about how expertly McGonagall had handled Umbridge, but Ron had definitely been the most enthusiastic.
Looking at them both, Harry let their support sink in, warming him, humbling him slightly. They'd both criticized him a lot, especially Hermione, but when it came right down to it, they always stood by him. Sometimes, he'd forget. "You've been through plenty yourself, really…" he said, torn between feeling guilty for feeling sorry for himself, and wondering why, when they'd also been through so much the last few years, they didn't feel the same urge as him to stand up to Umbridge directly.
"Not as much as you, Harry," said Hermione loyally.
"It's not like it's a contest," Harry mumbled, eyes on his Transfiguration textbook, "it's not like we're keeping score of who's suffered the most because of You-Know-Who."
Ron snorted. "Don't need to. It's you, Harry. And if you're going to say some rubbish about having dragged us into something, never mind— we chose it ourselves, and it's not as if you're the only one he's going to bump off when he takes over. Call it self-defence, right? And seeing as my parents are in the Order, I'd have been involved sooner or later, anyway."
Hermione sent Ron a grateful look (which made something inside him flutter momentarily), before she turned back to Harry. "All I'm saying, Harry, is that I want you to know that I understand why you're so…well, angry. It's just that I think we could probably find a more constructive outlet for those feelings."
As often was, Harry felt both offended and reassured that Hermione was taking personal responsibility for his wellbeing."And how do you suppose we'll go about doing that?"
Hermione pursed her lips, shrugging. "I don't know yet, but I'll think of something." Glancing at his marred hand, she decided she'd also have to find something to ease his pain. She was fairly certain she'd read something about it in Potions at some point, something about murtlap…
Harry nodded, but his mind was already somewhere else. All this talk about believing the world revolved around himself had made him wonder whether he'd been unfair in how he'd thought of his friends and allies during the summer. Yes, he was seemingly the most important piece in Voldemort's sick game of chess, possibly even the only one or one of the few people who could stop him, and he'd been alone and nervous and without news all summer, but that didn't mean other people didn't have their own lives and their own worries, and other things to consider besides him. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had seven children to think of, for one thing.
He wanted to believe they had good reasons for not writing him, good reasons for not letting him in the Order, for keeping him in the dark, that Dumbledore had good reasons for ignoring him— but it was hard.
Sighing quietly, so that Ron and Hermione wouldn't start asking him what was wrong, he decided sleep sounded rather wonderful right about then, after nearly a whole week of classes, piles of homework and detention without a break. Well, at least it would be, if he was lucky enough not to have any nightmares this time. After jotting down the last couple of lines and doing a quick proof reading on his Transfiguration essay, he rose and started to gather up his things. Wishing his friends a good night, he walked off before they could object— although perhaps they wouldn't have, considering everyone else had already gone to bed.
When Harry had disappeared up the stairs, Hermione turned to Ron with a wry smile. "You know, as I was reading about the illusion of central position theory…I thought of you."
Ron felt himself flush. He often thought of her, and hearing her saying those words (even if it probably didn't mean what he hoped it meant) affected him more than he'd like to admit even to himself. "How d'you mean?"
Hermione shifted in her chair. "Everybody does it sometimes, and some more than others…and you do have a tendency towards it, don't you? Expecting negativity from the world, I mean. Expecting the opposite of what you want." Here, she leaned towards him a bit, lowering her voice to a confidential murmur, even though they were the only ones in the room: "I've noticed that more than usual this year, what with the added stress of O. W.L.s and prefect duties and…well, Quidditch."
He flushed, quickly trying to expel two memories from his mind; the shocked expression she'd worn when she'd realized he was her fellow prefect, not Harry, and the mocking sounds of the onlookers at his Quidditch tryout. "Oh, that's where you're wrong, Hermione, I don't expect negativity from the world," Ron said in a deceptively cheerful tone, "I just expect myself to be rubbish," he went on, before putting on a knowing, haughty voice, nodding wisely, "because of course, Miss Granger, I do speak from experience."
Hermione's eyebrows gathered in concern. "Ron—"
"Just as you expect everyone else to be a git 'cause you're a certified genius and everyone is a git compared to you," he went on, perhaps just a bit more sharply than he'd intended.
Now she simply gasped. "Now that's just unfair, Ron! I expected you to know about Freud, and it turned out in the end that you did!"
"Then how come when I said 'git', you just assumed I was talking about myself?"
"Because you just said you expected yourself to be rubbish!"
"That was a joke! Just admit it, you'd be shocked if somebody came up with the answer to something before you! You expect to be the smartest person in most rooms!"
"No, I just expect to be the least attractive girl in most rooms! Don't you think I'd be thrilled if somebody else showed a sign of interest in— in actually learning things? I'd be thrilled if—"
Flabbergasted, he blinked. "Wait…what was that?"
Hermione froze for a long moment, her eyes wide. "That…was what you'd call a Freudian slip," she said at last, her voice small and her eyes not meeting his.
"Him again?" Ron joked feebly. "Well, what does it mean?"
She cleared her throat. "It has to do with when you…say something you didn't intend to say. When something slips out from your subconscious that you may not even have been aware was there."
"Remember how you said you were joking about thinking you were rubbish?" she cut in, uncomfortably aware of how tense she sounded. "Let's just say this was a joke, too, like that."
Not a joke at all, then, he wanted to say, but couldn't bring himself to. Clearly, they were both feeling vulnerable enough already.
"You know, Hermione…" Ron said reluctantly, his head down as he started picking at a fingernail, "…call me mental, but last time I checked, unattractive girls weren't invited to balls by international Quidditch stars."
Hermione felt herself flush at that, torn between embarrassed joy, annoyance and surprise. "Oh, so now you're putting stock into Viktor's opinion all of sudden? I thought you didn't like him."
He shrugged, glanced at her; looked away. "Just sayin', s'all."
She couldn't look at him, either, fixing her gaze instead on her lap. "Most boys don't even seem to realize I'm a girl."
"I'm sure that's all in your head," stated Ron, who'd overheard at least a couple of speculative conversations about Hermione (not to mention her tits and arse) around the castle the past year or so. Conversations he'd tried his best to ignore.
Now she gave him a quick, unsure look. "You don't."
He went scarlet. "We've been mates for ages, Hermione. I'm not s'posed to think of you like that."
His words made her chest feel tight; suddenly, she was desperate for clarity, desperate to know what he really meant: Was it that he couldn't, or that he just didn't? "That doesn't mean you can't…can't have an opinion."
He attempted a grin; it came out wobbly. "Didn't reckon you were the sort of girl who went 'round fishing for compliments."
"You didn't think I was a girl at all," she murmured reproachfully.
He dismissed this with a wave of his hand. "That's a load of bollocks, and you know it. Don't know why you're so interested in my opinion, in any case."
This time, it was she who blushed. "Well, nobody else has basically gone 'gosh, you're actually a girl, aren't you, I didn't realize', so is it any wonder if I—"
"Blimey, Hermione, there you are then, right? Nobody else has said anything of the sort. Just me, and that's just because I'm an utter git, like I apparently said I was."
"You're not a git. And I do value your opinion, I always have."
He raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You have?"
"Okay, okay…" There was a pause, during which Ron came to a decision. "Well…if you have to ask me…then I reckon you're a bit of all right," he said quietly.
Shock flooded her brain. Viktor had called her pretty, which had been nice, and while there was hardly anyhing romantic about 'a bit of all right' (as colloquial and almost vulgar as it was), it had far more of an effect on her. Not only did it simply sound more real, more visceral, but it had been Ron who'd said it. He could've chosen any words, really, if he just wanted to reassure her; he could've gone a neutral or even clinical route, could've simply called her 'not unattractive' or 'nice' and be done with it, but no…he'd used an expression she'd heard other boys at Hogwarts use, about girls like Parvati, Angelina, Lavender and Cho— all beautiful girls.
She realized then, too late, that she was looking slack-jawed at him. Clearing her throat, she sat up in her chair, clutching her book on Freud. "Thank you, Ron," she said, horrified when her voice came out as little more than a squeak.
"Don't mention it," he replied, shrugging, hoping he looked and sounded more composed than he felt. His face was burning.
"Think Harry's okay up there?" Hermione asked after a long moment of silence that was broken only by the crackling in the fireplace. "I should've realized how he'd feel about that theory...I shouldn't have mentioned it. I hope he didn't think I was being insensitive. I should've paid attention." She should've, she knew now, but her mind had mainly been on how it related to Ron. She felt like a silly teenage girl all of a sudden, and a bad friend.
"I'm sure he's fine," said Ron, his voice going a bit strange. He often worried about Harry as well, of course, but why was it that Hermione was always so hung up on being sensitive about Harry, yet she had no objections to screaming in Ron's face? Why was it always Harry? It was just his luck that when he finally got up the nerve to say something nice about her appearance, she changed the subject to Harry. "Want me to go check on him?" he suggested uncertainly.
Hermione brightened. "Would you? Oh, it's getting late, anyway. Maybe we should just go to bed…unless you still have homework left."
Ron sighed. "Yeah, you're probably right…got a big day tomorrow, as usual…need sleep. I'm nearly done with my Divination homework, I can do the rest in bed— fitting place for a dream diary, anyway, right? Since I haven't had time to study, though, I bet Snape decides to give us some sort of surprise test…"
Hermione laughed softly, shaking her head.
"Only that I remember why I automatically related you to the illusion of central position theory…"
It took him a moment to catch up with her reasoning, but when he did, he sent her a sheepish grin. "You should rename it Ronaldism, write a whole new thesis…"
She giggled; not high or grating like some other girls, but low and sweet. The sound was unusual, coming from her, and he found he quite liked it. "And you'd be willing to be my test subject, would you?"
"Only if it's as naughty as it sounds," he said, shooting her a smirk; subsequently shocking the hell out of himself. He was rewarded by a thunderstruck stare.
Standing up, he started gathering his school supplies, his stomach churning. "S'just— I'm just havin' a laugh— oh, don't look at me like—" he rumbled mindlessly, his eyes gluing themselves to his task. Now what in the bleeding hell did he go and say that for? It didn't even sound like him, it sounded more like something Fred would say to Angelina! That Froyd nutter would've probably called it temporary insanity or something. Ducking his head, he swept up the scattered Snap cards from earlier that evening (before Hermione had badgered them into studying) and stood. "Think m'just gonna turn in now, everybody else has."
"Right…" Hermione breathed. "Probably…not a bad idea."
Ron could still feel his face burning as he walked away, his gait slightly wobbly as he swore he could feel Hermione's eyes on his back. Wanker! he thought angrily at himself, screwing his eyes shut for a moment, his fingers tightening on his bundle of homework things.
Hermione drew a soft breath, her frame trembling with the aftershocks of what he'd said, and how badly it'd affected them both; somehow, she just couldn't let him go to bed like that. She knew embarrassment when she saw it, and it might make him unable to sleep, even if it would just be about her, of all people. Well, just in case...
When she didn't reply, he reluctantly turned back towards her.
"Nothing, just…you know, good night!" she said, actually sending him a smile. If he didn't know any better, he'd believe she sounded nervous.
"Yeah, good night," he echoed, his stomach doing an odd, floppy thing as her smile dimmed, yet persisted, small and shy. He wanted to smile back, but he was too stunned that she was trying to make him feel better after he'd made a complete arse of himself like that. And even more shocking: that she didn't seem offended, but rather sort of…almost pleased.
When he came down to breakfast the next morning, Hermione could tell he'd slept well. She allowed herself a tiny, secret smile, even if she supposed it was kind of central position theory-esque of her to assume she could take the sole credit for it. When he flashed her a tiny smile of his own, though, she found she didn't care.