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Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Harry climb through the portrait hole and stop dead, staring from me to Hermione and back again. I knew he'd never seen us screaming at each other the way we were. Hermione's fancy hairdo was beginning to tumble down over her shoulders, and I could see anger burning in her brown eyes.
"Well, if you don't like it, you know what the solution is, don't you?" she yelled at me.
"Oh yeah?" I snapped back. "What's that?"
"Next time there's a ball, ask me before someone else does, and not as a last resort!"
With that, she turned and hurtled up the stairs to her dormitory, leaving me alone with Harry, who still looked slightly dumbfounded. I myself was totally bewildered by her reaction; how could she have misinterpreted my anger so extensively? "Well," I sputtered, "well -- that just proves -- completely missed the point -- "
Whatever Harry was thinking, he didn't say. It had been, of course, an extremely long night, and we were exhausted. Without saying much of anything to each other, we went up to our own room, changed into pajamas, and crawled into our four-poster beds. After lying awake in silence for a very long time, I finally fell asleep.
The twins were sitting on the edge of my bed, laughing at me. Harry, Neville, Seamus and Dean were gone; it was just the three of us. I sat up and rubbed at my eyes. "What are you doing here?"
"We've come to watch, little brother," laughed Fred. "Look over there." Where Harry's bed ought to have been was instead a large white panel, as blank as my mind felt just then.
"What is it?" I asked.
"We're going to take a good look at why you're really mad at Hermione," said George.
"But -- but -- it's just about Krum," I protested. "She shouldn't have gone to the ball with him, not when he's against Harry in the tournament!"
"Oh, really? Is that all?" said Fred in a mock-surprised tone. "Hmm. Let's have a look." He turned to gaze at the white panel, and after a second, images began to play across it. I stared hard -- there was me! And Harry, and Hermione, and the Gryffindor and Slytherin Quidditch teams! What was going on?
"This would be, what? Two years ago?" said George. "Oh, yes, I remember it well. Slytherin came to take over the field for practice so they could train Malfoy to be their new Seeker. Annoying little git."
The seven figures clad in green practice robes brandished broomsticks at the seven figures in red; I could clearly see the words "Nimbus Two Thousand and One" written in gold on the handle of the nearest one. I watched as we all stared, and then Hermione said, "At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way on. They got in on pure talent."
I saw Malfoy's face go paler than usual, and a sneer curled across his lips. "Cor, he's an ugly thing," chuckled Fred darkly.
"No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood," Malfoy snarled at Hermione in the image. At these words, all the Gryffindors except Harry and Hermione (the only ones who didn't know what a Mudblood was) erupted in a furious explosion of angry words and attempts on Malfoy's life. But my own face I saw most clearly -- it was blood red with rage, and my hand tore the broken wand from the front of my robes as I cried, "You'll pay for that one, Malfoy!"
"See that, Fred?" remarked George. "Jumps right to her defense, doesn't he?"
"Violently too," agreed Fred, as a bolt of deep green light slammed out of the back end of my wand and into my stomach. I went reeling onto the ground.
"Ron! Ron! Are you all right?" cried the Hermione in the picture. The me on the ground reacted by belching up a mouthful of slugs into my lap. The me watching felt his -- I mean, my -- face turn as red as Harry's Quidditch robes. "She cares," said a voice in the back of my mind. Then I realized that it was Fred's voice; he was sitting nearest my right ear. In the picture, Harry and Hermione were laboring furiously to help me get to Hagrid's hut, where I vividly remembered vomiting the rest of the slugs into a large basin.
George was attempting to keep his face straight. "It's not every man who will belch slugs in the attempt to defend his lady."
"Oh, shut up about that," I muttered. My face was still burning.
"Let's try another one, shall we?" suggested Fred brightly. The images on the white panel vanished, only to be quickly replaced by new ones. Professor McGonagall was leading Harry and me down a hallway.
"Later in the same year," George observed. "That was when the Quidditch match against Hufflepuff was canceled." The three figures on the panel entered the hospital wing, where Professor McGonagall warned us that we were in for a shock. Two petrified figures lay on cots, being attended by Madam Pomfrey. One was Penelope Clearwater ("It's Percy's girlfriend!" grinned Fred) and the other was --
"Hermione!" my own voice groaned. I looked from Harry's face to mine. His was pale and drawn, bewildered beyond description, and deeply troubled. The Ron standing beside him, however, looked nothing short of distraught. My eyes had a sort of hollowness about them, as though all hope in the world had suddenly been wiped away.
"Petrified women don't make very good dance partners," Fred observed. Again the images changed, and now I was looking at myself in Lockhart's Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Harry was at the desk to my left; to my right was the empty chair where Hermione should have been. Harry slipped me a note: "Let's do it tonight." That was the night, I remembered, we had followed the spiders into the Forbidden Forest and nearly been eaten by Aragog's children. The memory still caused me occasional nightmares. I recalled the churning sensation in my stomach when I read his note. Then my gaze slid sideways to Hermione's empty chair, and I saw myself nod.
"You hate spiders," said Fred.
"He has ever since you turned his teddy bear into one," George reminded him.
"And yet you agreed to follow them into the depths of the forest," said Fred.
"You did it for Hermione," said George.
"This -- this doesn't prove anything," I said weakly. Once again, the pictures vanished.
"This is a short one," said Fred cheerfully. Hermione was approaching Harry and myself in the corridor near the Fat Lady. It was our third year; Lupin had just rescued Harry from Snape and taken the Marauder's Map from him. Hermione showed us a letter from Hagrid -- Buckbeak the hippogriff had been sentenced to death. Hermione's face was mournful, Harry's and mine determined. I heard myself promise to help Hermione do the research for his appeal, and watched my face turn instantly stunned as she cried, "Oh, Ron!" and threw her arms around me, sobbing.
"Awwww!" cried Fred and George together. They both had their hands clasped under their chins, the picture of contrived innocence. I grabbed a pillow and threw it at them.
"Look at your face -- you LIKE it!" crowed George.
"No, I don't! I look terrified!" I watched myself patting Hermione on the top of her head, my expression extremely nervous.
"Ron, you prat, what do you think that means?" said Fred, grinning evilly. The relief on the other Ron's face was evident when she released him at last and added, "Ron, I'm really, really, really sorry about Scabbers."
"So," said George as these visions too faded, "are you enjoying yourself then?"
"Because we are," added Fred. I didn't answer, just glared at them both.
"We've got another one, from the same year," George continued, as the images shifted once again. I recognized the new scene as Defense Against the Dark Arts class -- and groaned. Snape was filling in for an absent Lupin, and being particularly horrible. He kept asking us questions about werewolves, which we had not studied. Hermione, of course, had her hand in the air for every question, but he pointedly ignored her.
Finally, she started to answer his question without being called on. Snape glowered at her, and promptly took points away from Gryffindor because she was "an insufferable know-it-all." Hermione put her hand down, stared at her desk, and tried desperately not to cry.
All the anger I'd felt at that moment came rushing back to me as I watched myself jump to her defense once again. "You ask a question, and she knows the answer! Why ask us if you don't want to be told?" the me in the image shouted.
"Whoa," said Fred, softly.
"Ron, I have to say, that took some guts," said George, looking impressed.
"Attacking Malfoy and belching slugs is one thing," Fred continued, "but yelling at Snape?! You're either stupid or mad. But I respect either one."
"Lovely detention he gave you, too," added George, watching. "Ah, well, faint heart never won fair lady, and all that." Fred snickered. I just glared at them.
"Now, I was wondering," George continued. "I know that you at some point did ask Hermione to the Yule Ball. Let's see exactly what brought that on, shall we?"
"No!" I yelled, but the replay had already begun.
Harry, Ginny and I were in the Gryffindor common room, where Harry and I were recovering from the disappointment of being turned down for partners for the ball. Hermione had arrived, and took the news that we didn't have partners -- or rather, the news that I didn't have a partner -- quite smugly. "I'm sure you'll find someone somewhere who'll have you."
The other me was now staring at Hermione, mouth slightly open. I stared at the image of her too. The firelight behind her created a sort of halo around her bushy hair, and her smug little smile was oddly appealing. "Hermione," observed the other Ron, "Neville's right -- you are a girl..."
The twins collapsed on my bed, laughing hysterically. "I've heard some really bad come-on lines, Ron," said Fred, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes, "but I think that's the worst one ever!"
In the picture, Hermione had stalked out of the common room and up the stairs after I’d refused to believe she was really going with someone else. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. Then the images vanished once again.
“And the grand finale,” said George with a flourish. The picture opened on the ball, just hours before, when the champions and their partners had opened the dancing. Harry had returned from dancing with Parvati and sat down next to me, but the me in the image barely even knew he was there. That Ron was staring -- glaring -- with narrow, dark eyes at Krum, still dancing with Hermione.
“Ah, painful, wasn’t it,” said Fred, and his voice had lost some of its teasing notes. “There he is, your hero. He’s got it all, hasn’t he, Ron? Fame, talent, success -- and now he’s got Hermione too.”
“I don’t care,” I muttered.
“Ron, don’t be such a dungbrain!” exclaimed George, all hints of torment gone now. “Look at everything we’ve seen tonight! Put it all together! It’s not that hard! We see it!”
“And what do you see?” I growled. In the picture, Krum was still dancing with Hermione. It didn’t improve my mood.
Fred rolled his eyes upward. “We’re not going to tell you that, Ron.”
“Why not, if you two know so much?” I snapped.
“Because,” said George, “we’re not really here.”
All at once, my brothers disappeared. I turned my gaze back to the still-dancing couple; the image had not vanished with Fred and George. Get your hands off her, I thought. She did look quite pretty in the blue robes, with her shining hair twisted up and her cheeks pink from dancing, her perfectly aligned teeth gleaming in a brilliant smile...
I sat bolt upright in bed, sweating slightly. Completely awake now, I stared about wildly. Pulling back the curtains of my four-poster, I saw that the other beds were back where they belonged and that there was no white panel anywhere to be seen. Harry’s curtains were slightly askew, and I heard him breathing deeply in his sleep.
“Harry! Psst! Harry!”
“Hmm? Whazzat?” he mumbled. Across the room, Neville continued to snore.
“Harry, I -- I think I’m -- in love with Hermione.” My own whisper echoed in my ears.
“Okay,” he muttered stupidly, and fell asleep again at once. In the morning, I knew, he would not remember my having said a thing. Perhaps it was better that way.
I glanced over at my bedside table. The little figure of Krum was lying on its side, deeply asleep. I picked it up, an intense loathing swimming through my blood, and attempted to crush it in my hand. One of the little arms snapped off and fell, lying limp on my covers.
I lay back, brooding on this epiphany. Now that I know how I feel, I wondered, what do I do?