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* * *
Ron Weasley doesn't have to look at himself in the mirror to know what will be staring back at him. He's analyzed the reflection often enough, wondering what other blokes have that he doesn't. He's better looking than Vicky, he thinks savagely sometimes, and on one of those days, the mirror is split into twenty little miniature Ron images by his fist. But in all, everything he sees is insignificant. Ron has seen it all before, in six other men, and he doesn’t see anything special that sets him apart anymore. He wonders if there is anything. He wonders if his freckles will fade and then the rest of him will follow, fading into the background, dissipating among Harry’s blaze of glory as the world goes on without him. Most of all, he worries that she will forget him. Or that she has already shrugged him off as something inconsequential. He may not be dark and brooding, an international Quidditch sensation, and he may not be small and vulnerable and a hero, but he’s…he’s something. Something. Ron worries and worries that she will forget that, that she will look at him and that a blank will draw and she will just see his red hair and freckles and think vaguely, “Ah, a Weasley.” It is an irrational fear, but every time her eyes meet his, every time she opens her mouth and then shuts it just as rapidly, he worries that she’s deemed him unimportant.
It is because of this that he has taken to paying some attention to his appearance. He's not handsome or anything, he knows that. His hair is too red and his nose too long, and he wonders how many other people have mistaken his freckles for spattergroit. But he thinks that maybe if he starts combing his hair and perhaps using some of his Mum’s home remedies for freckle-removal, she will notice. There is a wave to his hair and his hands are softer than they have been for four years, and even if he’s not comfortable, per se, he’s happy. Because she’s looking at him now.
It isn’t until Hermione whirls around to him in the common room and says, “Honestly, I simply cannot understand what would provoke you to act as entirely dim as you have been of late, Ron!” that he thinks his makeover hasn’t been such a good idea.
Doesn’t he look nice?
* * *
There is nothing Hermione finds more unattractive than stupidity.
When she was a small girl, she was not someone to leave an impression visually. She was not blonde and blue-eyed and she did not have rosebud cheeks and a charming giggle. She was skinny with frizzy hair and she had an enormous gap where her front teeth should’ve been that brought forth a most unappealing lisp. Because adults tended to ignore her, she developed the tendency of speaking extremely loudly and perhaps a bit bossily. And she read. Oh, she read everything. Knowledge was what set her apart, and it was what made her memorable. It’s what, her mum said, made her beautiful.
Hermione sympathizes with those who feel less-than-gorgeous…she lived with buck teeth and big hair for the majority of her life. But she cannot stand it when people cannot see their own beauty- when they change themselves in order to fit into society’s ideals.
She has watched him- how he sits with all his limbs crunched in, and at his height that’s some feat. She has observed the way his hair falls into his eyes and curls against his ears and neck, and the way his bottom lip is always tucked in, as if he is trying not to say something naughty. She has seen how his hands always move with restrained energy, how his leg always jiggles, how he sometimes makes random noises because he can’t stand being quiet any longer. It’s as if he must move, make a sound, to prove he’s alive. It’s part of his charm.
Or at least…it was. Then he had to go and be a supreme git and…and…
Goodness. She shakes her head one day and sighs. He looks like some sick parody of Percy- his hair all combed back from his face, his hands clean and lips smooth. His freckles- Hermione looks more closely and wonders whether they are looking a bit more faded and- oh, really! Is that hand cream she smells? Ginny’s hand cream, to be exact!
It is the hand cream that causes her to turn and scream at him. She feels sorry for speaking so curtly, but- she shakes her head. How can he be so thick? He is perfect the way he is, with his freckles and his blue eyes and his lips and his smile and-
He is perfect! Can’t he see that?
* * *
“Hermione,” Ron says, “what- what’s the matter?”
She is staring at him with such a look of confusion and exasperation that he cannot help but feel annoyed at himself for not realizing whatever it is that she has already seen. He is always slow on the uptake.
“Why,” she says steadily, “are you-“, here, she makes a vague hand motion, “-why are you like…like this?”
Ron shakes his head. Like what, he wonders. “Like what?”
Hermione growls and shakes her head. Reaching out, she grabs his shoulder and makes him sit. He is so tall that even while he sits, he can look her almost in the eye. His heart rate speeds up as she bends the small distance and gazes directly into his eyes.
Taking out her wand, she murmurs a charm and Ron feels his hair ruffling. The familiar lock of red tumbles onto his forehead, and Hermione says softly, “There. See? Wonderful.”
She turns to leave and there seems to be an internal struggle going on within her. “Ron,” she starts, her back turned.
“I mean it.” Her voice is soft, desperate. “You’re wonderful. You don’t need all those stupid hair charms or the freckle cream, or-“ here, she laughs, “-or even Ginny’s hand cream.” Ron blushes and he ducks his head. He had hoped she wouldn’t notice, actually.
“I love you for your messy hair and you dirty nose and your callused hands. And- and Ron.” Hermione whirls to face him. She strides the few steps it takes to reach him and grabs a hold of his shoulders again. “You’re beautiful,” she whispers dangerously. She leans in and her lips are a breath away. Ron cannot seem to rip his eyes from her gaze. She kisses him and still Ron does not close his eyes, consumed with the image of Hermione so close, so…intimate. Her lips move against his. “You’re beautiful,” she says again, gently. “Just as you are.”
And the silence that reigns after that is too oppressive for either of them, for they both leave. Avoiding each other’s gaze. But the words ring in the hollow of Ron’s heart.
“Just as you are.”
* * *
She is sitting in the library, her shoulders tense and hunched as her quill travels frantically across a scrap of parchment. Her eyes are dark and troubled as she stares down at her writing, and a tendril of hair is hanging down her forehead, ink-stained fingers twirling it absently.
“You needn’t speak,” she says stiffly when she feels Ron watching her. “I know- I know I was horrible. I assumed- I thought- I never- I thought I knew how you felt- and I didn’t. I’m really, really, really just utterly presumptuous and stupid, I’m sorry…”
Anything else she has to say is lost as he drops to his knees next to her chair. “Never,” he says fiercely, “Never, ever say you’re stupid, Hermione. Never.” He touches her knee intimately, and the action causes Hermione to drop her quill in surprise.
She is lovely, he thinks, with her hair so soft and her eyes slightly moist and her nose pink. She isn’t lovely because of makeup, or perfume, or- or really anything remotely material. She’s just- she’s Hermione. She’s got brown eyes that are always alit- whether because of knowledge gained or because of laughter, or even because of sadness. Her fingers are always writing, always moving, always working for a better tomorrow. Her forehead has little creases on it from thinking so hard, and Ron gives a noise of disbelief at himself as he watched his hand reach up to trace one of these fine lines. Her hair is fluffy and smells nice and she hasn’t got a dollop of hand cream on. He loves it.
He loves her.
“Oh, Hermione…Fine. I’ll be beautiful, all right? But only…” he trails off, blushing. “Only if you be beautiful with me. We’ll be…”
Hermione giggles suddenly. “Beautiful together?”
Ron smiles. Hermione smiles.
“Yeah,” he agrees. “Beautiful together.”