The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.
Disclaimer: Ron and Hermione are JKR's-but really fan fiction R/H belong to all the great R/H writers here at the Sugar Quill. I am just borrowing them from all of you.
A/N: A big thanks to Jo Wickaninnish, my beta, Julu,Nic 83, and faelaeran who read this over for me. This story is my understanding of the bond between Ron and Hermione. I needed to write this story so I could understand them better as characters. Please let me know how I did. I promise to never write another R/H story as long as I live, but I do need them to be "right" for my H/G stories. So let me know either way-I don't mind constructive criticism!
Say it with Socks
"You're healing nicely, Mr. Weasley. Those scars should be faded by the time school starts."
"Keep using the unction twice a day."
"Right. Do I need to come back?"
"No, I don't think that's necessary. Let Madam Pomfrey look you over when you get back to Hogwarts. But do come in if they start to turn red or if you have pain."
Ron left the Healer's office with relief. He didn't have to come back and the lines were going to fade, although now it looked as if he had white spider webs embedded in his arms.
He headed for the fireplaces to Floo back to the Burrow. He was hungry for breakfast. While it was bad enough going in for these checkups, scheduling them at the crack of dawn made it all the worse. Part of the full St. Mungo's experience, he thought sourly as his stomach growled.
Quickening his pace, he almost overlooked the girl sitting on the bench in the alcove. She was reading what looked to be a heavy book, and she had hair remarkably liked Hermione's.
Hold on. It was Hermione! Yet she looked . . . smaller . . . than he remembered. Maybe it was the Muggle clothes of jeans, t-shirt and sandals, which highlighted her slight frame, but he didn't remember her being that thin when they left school.
She looked up blankly. "Ron?" she asked slowly, "What are you doing here?"
"I'm here for a checkup on these scars." He sat on the bench next to her, looking with dismay at the shadows under her eyes. "What about you?"
"Oh." Her hands gripped the book. "I'm here for sort of a checkup too."
His eyes narrowed at her tone. "What do you mean 'sort of'? What's going on?"
She sighed and looked off into space. "I suppose I should have told you. That curse I was hit with at the Department of Mysteries---well, I've had some complications."
"Yes." She finally looked him in the eye. "With my heart. It's frozen all around it. So I have to come in once a week and drink these potions. Then they check me over at the end of the day, to see how much has thawed."
"You mean--you mean your heart is frozen? How can that be?"
"No," she said tartly. "My heart isn't frozen-it still works. It's what surrounding it that's frozen."
"How did this happen? It seems to me that a curse would burn you, not freeze you."
She shook her head. "The curse only indirectly caused the freezing. It---" She stopped for a moment. "This is hard to explain. You know that feeling when you're around Dementors? Like you're cold and unhappy?"
Ron nodded, remembering the Dementors on the train.
"It's like-" Her voice dropped. "I've had those feelings, and because this curse went right across my heart-well that coldness kind of leaked inside." She closed her book without bothering to mark her place, and smoothed her hands over the cover.
He looked at Hermione's bent head, not a bit surprised at this admission. Of course she felt that way; icy despair had overwhelmed him at times this summer as well. This wasn't an easy thing for her to admit--that she had been feeling so depressed.
Then he noticed the title of her book: The Department of Mysteries Explained. He felt a queer twisting in his stomach that had nothing to do with hunger. There were so many confusing, awful things they had experienced at the end of the term, and still Hermione was hoping to find some answers in a book . . . to somehow make it better . . .
She looked up at his continued silence.
"Are you here by yourself?" he asked.
"Yes. Mum and Dad don't understand the magical world that well, and they really don't get magical medicine. So I go to my appointments on my own," she said in the same matter-of-fact tone she always used when talking about her family.
"How much longer do you have to stay?"
"I'm not sure. I've already taken the potion. They'll check me again at noon."
"How about I stay with you?" Ron asked, knowing he was going to miss being outside, but also knowing there was no way he was going to leave her here on her own.
"Oh!" She looked relieved. "But are you sure?" she asked a little anxiously. "It's kind of boring hanging around a hospital all morning."
"As long as I can have some breakfast, I think I'll manage. Come on, let's go to the tea shop-it's upstairs from what I remember."
"Yes, I know every inch of this place by now."
Ron took the book away from her, their fingers touching. "Let me."
"I can carry it, I'm not that fragile."
"Indulge me." Then he reached out and took the hand he had brushed against. "Your hands are freezing."
" I haven't been warm all summer. It's how I knew something was really wrong with me," she said as they started up the stairs.
As they walked up the gloomy stairs to the teashop, Hermione stole a glance at Ron. He looked incongruously big and healthy and oh so familiar. She didn't realize how much she had missed him until he had called her name in the corridor.
She was surprised at how easy it was to explain her problem, and she was further surprised at his reaction, at his silence. His silence was not because of confusion or pity, it was . . . as if he was absorbing what she was telling him. Almost as if he were taking it on himself, like he took the book out of her hands. Her eyes filled with the tears that were never too far away these days.
The hospital teashop was one of those dismal places, which tried hard to be cheerful.
The baskets of artificial flowers on the tables were horribly garish, the piped in music sounded like a cross between a Fwooper and an Augurey. Even the pictures of the sunny domestic scenes looked a little strained. Hermione thought the puppies gamboling on the green lawn looked tired-like they just wanted to take a nap instead of having to wag their tails for the patients.
Ron looked around. "Nice place. Umbridge must be jealous of their art collection."
Hermione almost smiled. That's why I never liked it here. Trust Ron to see that right away.
"I'll sort out breakfast. What do you want?"
"Did you eat breakfast today?" He was looming over her with a disapproving look.
She hated that look. "What business is it of yours?" she snapped.
"I'll take that as a 'no,'" he said, giving her the book back. "Find us a table, ok?"
Fuming, Hemione selected a table by a high window, as far away from the tired puppies as she could get. Why did he have to be so high-handed?
She watched him talking to the counter-witch, who was positively beaming at him. What was it with Ron these days? He certainly garnered female attention wherever he went. She had noticed it at Hogwarts as well, especially after he became the Quidditch hero.
Ron came back with two steaming mugs of tea. "This should warm up your hands at least."
Hermione looked at hers with distaste. "A little strong, don't you think?"
She took a sip. It was dark and hot and sweet, and for some reason it seemed more potent than the potion she had to drink downstairs. Maybe Ron was on to something.
He gave her a gratified smile when she kept on drinking it. She restrained herself from rolling her eyes at his enthusiasm.
"So what about those scars? I never asked about you."
He showed her his arm. "See, they're fading."
"Did--" She wondered if she should ask him this. "Did any of those thoughts, you know, from those brains--did any of them ever go to your mind?"
"No," he said in a steady voice. "My thoughts are my own. They always have been. So-what did your book say about the Department of Mysteries? Did it mention the tank of brains?"
"I'm disappointed in this book. It describes everything as we saw it, but it really doesn't explain anything."
"Maybe because they are mysteries and they can't be explained."
"Don't be facetious Ron."
"If you mean, don't make jokes-well I'm not." He leaned closer. "Think about it. These areas of study we saw-what were they?"
Hermione started listing them on her fingers. "Time, space, death, the mind, whatever was behind that locked door."
"Right. Those things they study--they don't just exist at the Department of Mysteries. They're everywhere-part of everyone's life."
"That's still not a good enough reason as to why they can't be explained."
He absently stirred his tea for a moment, thinking. "Maybe they can't be explained because the only way to understand these mysteries is to experience them."
Hermione leaned closer, finally talking about what had haunted her all these weeks. "Are you saying that these mysteries go beyond the scope of books, beyond the scope of what intelligence can absorb?"
He shook his head with a smile. "I'm glad you could pull that out of what I just said."
"But if you say the only way to comprehend is to experience--then you're saying that the only way to comprehend death is--to experience it?"
"Putting it that way sounds funny, but yes-that's what I meant."
"But-" She felt a chill around her heart. "That's awful-to never know."
"Oh, you'll know someday-so will I," he said cheerfully.
"That's an even worse thought."
"Do you really think so?" he asked musingly. "The only other choice is to be a ghost, and I don't think I'd like that. Re-living the same old thing day after day. Look at Moaning Myrtle--would you want to be like that forever?"
"Well, you're the one with the Time-Turner. You tell me."
"I can understand the concept of time turning. But what I don't understand is why if my Time-Turner bought Sirius more time-why did he have so little of it afterwards? And why was it his time to die this summer and not two summers ago?"
"So what does that tell you about time?"
"That it's cruel," she whispered.
"I think you're right, partly," he said in a low voice, "but not always. That little bird was born in the bell jar. That's a happy part."
"But then it died."
"Yeah-but not before it got to live. There's a lot of good stuff too."
"I suppose," she said to her clasped hands.
"So-see, you've experienced time. You know just as much as any of those Unspeakables know."
She felt the familiar impatience of going around in circles; this wasn't solving her problem. "But if I know this, why do I feel so sad?" she asked irritably.
"Knowing something doesn't keep you from feeling." Ron raised his eyebrows. "Why shouldn't you feel sad when sad things happen? There's no law that says you have to be happy all the time."
"It's just-" She looked at him with big eyes. "I feel-like I'm doing something wrong to feel this way." Then she added with vehemence, "I shouldn't feel this way."
"Since when could you control time and the outcome of everything?" he asked with equal vehemence. "You're a powerful witch, Hermione-but even you can't prevent life from happening. You have to let some of this go."
She had heard all of this before, but hearing Ron say it- it was as if she was given permission to cede control, permission to lay down her burden.
Her shoulders dropped and she took a deep breath. "So where do I put all this-the bin?"
"Evanesco is good. Vanishing Cabinet is better. The best choice would be to stick it up old Bellatrix's-"
"Or You-know-who's, or Umbridge"s, or Malfoy's," he continued as if he hadn't heard her. "Really, there are so many possibilities."
She had to smile, for the first time in days.
Just then the counter-witch brought over a heavy tray loaded with Ron's breakfast: toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, and fried tomatoes. "There you go dearie, give us a shout if you need anything else."
"Sure there's enough?" Hermione asked dryly, knowing full well he'd have that mountain of food polished off in no time.
"Have some toast."
"No-thank you. I'm really not hungry."
"Hermione, you're skin and bones," he said impatiently. "And don't get all huffy," he said, noticing her frown. "You need to eat. Now do you want pumpkin preserves or orange marmalade?"
"I don't care for anything pumpkin," Hermione replied.
"Marmalade it is. Start with a half of a piece."
She wondered what was wrong with her, giving in to his coaxing. Maybe she really was hungry. The toast was good--better than usual--maybe it was the orange marmalade.
As she helped herself to more toast from his plate, she thought about what a warm color orange was, and how she always associated it with Ron. It must be because of the Chudley Cannons, she thought. Or maybe that Weasley hair. Whatever it was, she realized that she had never appreciated that warmth as much as she did today.
"Well, that hit the spot," he said with a contented sigh.
"You know, you're talking about hospital food," Hermione said, amused.
"So, hospital food is supposed to be the worst, right up there with airline food."
"Airline food? You mean Muggles eat while flying?"
"Yes-it's supposed to pass the time."
"Amazing, what Muggles come up with."
"You sound like your dad."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"And you try to bully me into eating just like your mother."
"I'll take that as a compliment too."
"Good-that's the way I meant it," she said, enjoying the sight of Ron's ears turning red.
Back at the bench Hermione felt as if she could hardly keep her eyes open. "I'm so tired all of a sudden. Must be all of that toast."
"It's because you're a little warmer. That helps you sleep."
"Maybe that's why I haven't been sleeping. I seem to notice the cold more at night."
"What? Socks to bed? How is that supposed to help you sleep?"
"When you go outside in winter, you put a hat on, right? Well, if your feet are cold, you won't be able to sleep."
"This is another one of your Weasley wisdom kind of things isn't it?"
"Well, it's true." He looked down at her bare feet in sandals. "Give me a foot."
"Ron, this is ridiculous."
She slipped off her sandal and hoisted her foot to rest on his knee.
"See, your feet are freezing," he said as he wrapped his hand around her instep.
Hermione had never considered herself ticklish, had never been overly sensitive to touch, but the shocking warmth of his hand on her foot sent a tremor up her spine.
"You need socks," he said.
"I don't see a sock dispenser around here," she said sarcastically, in an attempt to hide her confusion.
"I'll conjure you a pair."
"You can conjure?"
"I've been practicing now that they've lifted the ban on underage magic. And like Fred and George told me, it's best to learn to conjure what you need whilst in bed. That way you don't have to get up in the middle of the night. So I can conjure socks, pillows, tissues, and glasses of water. I'm working on blankets, but I can't seem to make them big enough."
"Let's see some socks then."
He looked at the foot in his hand. "Your feet are a lot smaller than mine, so they might be too big."
"Try the minimizing suffix," she suggested.
With a flick of his wrist a pair of pink fuzzy socks, in the correct size, appeared.
"Excellent," she said, impressed. "But why pink?"
"Pink for the lady."
"I've become quite fond of orange."
He chuckled. "Orange I can do." With another flick of his wrist, they changed to a glowing fluorescent orange.
She smiled and said, "The color alone should warm my feet." She put them on, not expecting to feel any different, but she did--almost immediately. "Just like little fireplaces."
She glanced at him. "And don't look so smug."
"No smugness here. Now for a pillow."
A fluffy white pillow appeared. He slid to the end of the bench. "Now stretch out and have a little rest."
"What are you going to do? Watch me sleep?"
"I'm tired too. My appointment was at the crack of dawn-that's why I didn't have Mum come along. I'm happy to sit here with my eyes closed."
Hermione was sleepy. And it did look like a very soft pillow. She took out her wand and cast a cushioning charm on the bench. As she closed her eyes she felt what seemed to be a scarf covering her.
Without opening her eyes she said, "Try the maximizing prefix." Soon she was covered in something warm and fuzzy from head to toe.
Ron woke up with a start. He hadn't meant to fall asleep, but it was so quiet and peaceful with just the two of them, that he had easily drifted off. He looked down. Somehow Hermione had crept closer to him in her sleep. She was practically curled up in his lap. She finally looked warm.
"Miss Granger," the Healer said in a louder voice. Then she looked at Ron apologetically. "She really needs to be checked within the hour. Do you think you can wake her and bring her down to my office in the next ten minutes?"
She stirred, but didn't open her eyes. He tried again, this time speaking in a normal voice. How he wished he could kiss her awake-that would certainly warm him up. But he really didn't want to have his face slapped for his troubles. Plus it wasn't fair to Hermione to be taken unawares like that. He would have to resort to the Weasely rise-and-shine method, which was not gentle.
He pulled the blanket off first. This caused her to burrow in closer to his side. "Hermione!" Then he gently shook her shoulder. She finally opened her eyes, looking at him with bemusement.
"Ron?" He could see it all coming back to her. She sat up abruptly and asked, as if to hide her confusion, "Am I supposed to go back to the office?"
"Yeah--I wish you could have slept longer."
"I think it was the first good sleep I've had all summer," she said pulling off the socks and slipping into her sandals. "Your socks really worked."
"Never dispute the Weasley wisdom. I'll wait for you."
"You don't have to do that."
"Suit yourself," she said trying to sound indifferent as she walked down the corridor.
Ron looked at his watch. He decided he should Floo home and tell Mum where he was. She worried so these days. He had just enough Floo powder for a quick conversation and his passage home.
As he wandered back to the bench from the fireplaces, he ran across the portrait of the spattergroit Healer. "What's ailing you, young sir?"
"Nothing. I'm here with a friend."
"And your friend?"
Ron wasn't going to answer, but then it occurred to him that perhaps he could find out some answers about Hermione. "She has freezing around the heart."
"Ah, Melancholia." The Healer shook his head. "That is a difficult one." He looked at Ron keenly. "What are they doing for her?"
"Some sort of potion-once a week."
"Well that works if the problem is one of Bodily Humours-is she Phlegmatic?"
Ron was taken aback. "I don't know. What does that mean?"
"Is she like this frequently?"
"No! She's never like this. I mean--she's always trying her best. She really cares about everything she does. She never gives up. She's kind of amazing, really."
The Healer listened intently and then said carefully, "What terrible thing happened to her?"
Ron shuffled his feet. "Someone we were close to died. Another friend, whom we both love, has a horrible task to complete, and there's a war on, and a whole lot of other stuff."
The old portrait sighed. "I'm not surprised. So much of life is sad and tragic, and when it gets to be too much, the brain and the body shut down for a while. Your friend-she will get better. Melancholia always gets better given time-the brain wants desperately to be healthy. The danger is if the time it takes to heal on its own is too long. The potions should help I suppose-but I think that your friend needs to talk, needs to know love and affection."
Ron felt some of the weight he didn't realize he was carrying drop from his shoulders. Hermione would get better. But he wished he could do more for her. She wasn't always the easiest person to show affection to. "I don't think I know the right things to say."
The Healer nodded sympathetically. "I think listening is more important in this case."
"Who else does she have?"
"Her parents-but they're Muggles. Our friend, Harry, is just as depressed." He paused. "I guess I'm about all she has at the moment . . ." Except that bloody pen pal, he thought. And he's a grouchy git.
"Then your duty is clear."
"I suppose it is." Ron looked up and smiled ruefully. "You're still doing yours aren't you?"
"Yes," he sighed, "I know I'm a source of amusement for many who walk by. But I can't seem to stop trying to heal. It's who I am I suppose."
"But isn't it depressing? All these sick people?"
"Most of them get better, believe it or not. That's the good part. There are many wonderful things that happen in a hospital-the kind of magic that can't be explained. Just go and look at the babies-two new arrivals today."
Ron thought about what he and Hermione had discussed earlier about the Department of Mysteries. Here was the mystery of time in one building: from birth to death.
The portrait thought for a minute, as if reading a textbook in his mind. "There will be cold tears, which will eventually turn warm. They are healing tears."
"I don't like crying," Ron said with a shudder.
The Healer nodded. "Most men don't. But you have to understand that they are part of our physiology. No need to fear them."
"Yeah. Um, thanks for listening and for telling me what to expect."
The portrait inclined his head. "Good luck, young man-your lady friend, she has quite a champion in you." Then he added kindly, "I'm sure she will overlook the spattergroit."
Ron was waiting at the bench, idly leafing through the Department of Mysteries book. He greeted her with, "This book is rubbish. I could have written this book, and I don't know anything."
"I'm just fine, thanks for asking."
"Sorry. How are you? What did they say?"
Hermione was glad to have some good news. "Ninety-Eight percent of the frozen part has been thawed. I should be back to normal in another week."
"Oh, that's good." He let out a deep breath, put the book aside, and stretched his legs out in front of him as if he could finally relax.
Hermione had always been reminded of a tawny lion, lying in the bright African heat whenever she saw Ron lolling like that. At first she thought it was a lazy stance, but now she was more inclined to think of it as saving energy, because there was power there-ready to pounce when the time came.
"Sit with me for a minute."
"Aren't you in a hurry to get home? It's a beautiful day," she said secretly glad she didn't have to return to an empty house any time soon.
"I want to talk to you first, make sure you're ok."
"I am," she said earnestly. "I'm not even as tired. Thanks to your socks."
"Good," he said, looking down at her. "I have once last bit of Weasley wisdom for you."
"What's that?" she asked warily.
"I Flooed Mum and told her what I was doing. She was sorry to hear you were ill. She wanted me to give you a hug for her."
And before Hermione knew it, he had drawn her in his arms. She was so surprised that she offered no resistance. Her head bumped into his chest, as she found herself splayed against him.
She had hugged Ron on numerous occasions, but this was the first time she ever remembered him reaching out for her. And this was no quick caress and then pushing away. No, this was as if . . . She really didn't know what this was like, because she had absolutely nothing to compare it to, since she had never been enveloped by someone before.
Hermione had gone back in time with the Time Turner, she had stopped time when she was petrified, but she had never been inside of time. It was as if she was poised in mid-flight in a bell jar with warm swirls of orange, and red and gold all around. The gold was beautiful and warm and good.
She breathed deeply and felt as if the colors were rushing through her lungs, warming her, cracking the ice around her heart. Cold tears ran down her face, and warm ones followed. When she stopped crying she knew two things: she knew that she was healed, and she knew where the gold came from. It came from Ron.
The healer was right, Ron thought, first cold and then warm tears. I'm glad I knew that ahead of time, otherwise I would have panicked.
Hermione pulled away, futilely mopping her eyes with her hand. Ron conjured a box of tissues. She started to laugh. "I do think you have the most practical beginners repertoire of conjured items I've ever seen."
"All I have left is a glass of water."
"That would be nice."
As Hermione drank her water, Ron noticed that the color was back in her cheeks and her eyes looked brighter.
"You look like you feel better."
"I do-I feel like myself again."
She wasn't looking at him. He wondered if she was embarrassed about crying all over him. She shouldn't be since he had seen her cry loads of times.
"Ron?" Now she was looking at him with a strange expression. "Thank you for doing that-just now. And for staying with me this morning. And conjuring what I needed."
"No problem." He smiled at her.
"Well," she said briskly. "I should go home now."
"Me too." He vanished the conjured items and picked up Hermione's book.
Once at the fireplaces, he handed the book back to her. "Write to me, ok? I may not always write back great letters, but I-well, you know-I am listening."
She smiled and said, "Only you, Ron, can listen on parchment. I think you have a new homework excuse."
He laughed, imagining what Snape would say if he told him an empty piece of parchment proved he had been listening in class. "Take care of yourself-eat."
"Aren't you going to remind me to breathe too?" she asked tartly.
"I think you can take it the rest of the way."
She reached out her hand, and then dropped it to her side. "I'll see you soon." She stepped into the fire.
Ron watched the flames roar, and then die down again. I should have given her a hug she knew was from me, he thought. Still he didn't feel the least bit guilty about the white lie he had told her. Of course Mum would have wanted Hermione to have a hug. She just didn't say that in their Floo conversation.
He had looked up the locked door in the book while he was waiting for Hermione. It said that love was behind the door. Someday, maybe they would experience that together . . . Or maybe, he thought with a lighter heart, they were in the middle of experiencing it right now.
Sometimes he wished that he was better at putting his thoughts into words, but after today, he knew he could say things in other ways, and that she would understand. For Christmas he was going to give Hermione socks-orange. No pink and orange, he amended--most unusual.
Sorry-another tiresome author's note-this time about depression. It would be nice if we all had a Ron, or we could be a Ron for someone we loved. The combination of potions, talk, and TLC can work miracles. Be like Ron and educate yourself if you are worried about depression in yourself or someone you love. It can and will get better!
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