Roses in December: Chapter 1
"God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December."
- Sir James Matthew Barrie
Ron's head jerked upward as Hermione, without anything resembling what Ron would consider fair warning, suddenly slammed her enormous, dusty book shut and got abruptly to her feet. She rolled her parchment in an uncharacteristically untidy manner and hurriedly stuffed her quill and corked ink bottle into a pocket on the side of her bag.
"Hermione, what are you—?" Ron began, suddenly realizing his voice was far too loud for the library and that Hermione would be about to tell him off.
"Ron, quiet," she admonished in an urgent whisper, looking quickly to Madam Pince before turning back to him. "I've just, well, I've read something."
"I know, Hermione," he said, deliberately being thick just to see the exasperated blush grace her cheeks. "That's why we come to the library, to read things. But you don't see me suddenly going mad and leaping up."
"Honestly, Ron," she hissed. "You know we can't talk about this here. I'll come to your room before rounds."
"Hermione, rounds are hours away," Ron said, as incredulously as possible without raising his voice. "Surely you won't be in the hospital wing that long."
Hermione began to answer him, and he honestly tried to concentrate on what she was saying. He was sure she was making a great deal of sense, as she nearly always did, but he was still stuck on his own panicked theories to explain why Hermione would suddenly need to go to the hospital wing, of all places.
Merlin, I'm still in love with her. Months of ill-advised snogging with Lavender Brown last year and several long months without Hermione at the beginning of the summer couldn't even to burn it away.
Ron covered his sigh as she continued to talk to him in a harsh whisper. Blimey, wasn't she the one who'd just told him they shouldn't talk about this in the library?
Just before last Christmas, Ron had allowed himself to hope that she might have feelings for him as well when she invited him to that daft Slug Club with her. She probably just felt sorry for him. Maybe she had seemed a little off-balance when she'd seen him with Lavender, but that probably didn't mean anything. Hermione had snogged Viktor Krum, he reminded himself. How could she possibly have feelings for a non-entity such as himself?
"So, you can see why I need to speak with a Healer," she concluded, and Ron nodded a bit. "I need to ask about the side effects before I go any further."
"Wait...side effects?" he said, interrupting her and earning an even more exasperated look. "Are you all right?"
Her exasperation turned to puzzlement. She cocked her head to the side, which caused a particularly rebellious chunk of her hair to fall over her left eye. He wanted to reach up and bury his hands in her hair and pull her toward him, look at her just long enough to make sure she wasn't about to murder him, and then...
"What are you talking about?" she hissed.
He shook his head a little to clear it. This wasn't about kissing her. It was about her needing the hospital wing.
"You've just said you need to go to the hospital wing for several hours, and you're talking about side effects. It's a natural question, Hermione. Do you need help getting there? I can work on this essay for Flitwick some other time. We all know this is a farce anyway." He lowered his voice. "We should be out there with Harry, not back here at school pretending everything is normal the way the Ministry wants us to. I'd be there with him, if he hadn't all but sent us here after the summer was over." It all came out in a rush as he focused so strongly on the shadow her hair cast over her face that the rest of the world around her seemed blurry.
She circled the large wooden table to bend closer to him, presumably to ensure that no one would overhear them, although the only effect Ron had noticed was the way it drove him mad to have her hair brush his shoulder the way it had just brushed the side of her face a moment ago.
"Don't say things like that here," she began, scandalized. "We shouldn't talk about him," she said, pausing significantly as she did whenever she was referring to Harry without using his name, "out here like this. And it's nothing like that. I just need to ask Madam Pomfrey something."
Ron gave her a look that he hoped would communicate just how much she had failed to convince him.
"Listen, I've read something... something quite important," she continued. "Well, it may be important. But I need to check something with a Healer, and Madam Pomfrey is more than qualified, I'm sure."
Ron had felt slow and dim-witted for the past several minutes, but a thought finally entered his head that he felt was relevant enough to utter out loud.
"So it's about Harry?" he asked, and looked around just as she had a moment before. "And You-Know-Who?"
Hermione set her lips together and gave him the tiniest of nods. "This is why he wanted us to come back here, Ron. When McGonagall announced the school would re-open, we both knew he wouldn't come back. There are so many resources here, Ron. At least one of us had to come back and use them to try and help him. I'm just glad I don't have to do it on my own."
Ron blinked up at her, wishing for a moment that she wasn't utterly, hopelessly out of his league. Then she did the most amazing thing. Her hand grazed his shoulder as she straightened. Just a quick touch, and he was sure she hadn't given it a moment's thought. She did things like this all the time now, ever since he'd first laid eyes on her when they'd both turned up in Little Whinging, determined to remove him from the Dursley's or at least stay there to protect him. Thank Merlin that Harry decided it was time to finally go back to Grimmauld Place. Ron hadn't liked the look of that Dudley very much at all.
He doubted she would touch him as much if she knew what kind of thoughts wandered through his mind whenever she did. He knew she just needed support, worried as she was for Harry...for them all. She'd taken on as much responsibility as Harry would allow her to take, now that Harry was the unofficial leader of the remainder of the Order of the Phoenix.
"All right then, Ron?" she said, and he realized she'd been waiting for him to nod, or even, bloody hell, say anything intelligible, before she left.
He briefly considered asking her if she might not want to find a dark corner somewhere and snog until patrol instead, but it was an insane thought. Shame though, as he'd learned quite a bit of technique with Lavender and he was longing to put it to good use with his bushy-haired best friend.
Who are you kidding? She'd always compare me to the rich, famous, talented Viktor Krum.
"Well, good luck then, Hermione." He smiled up at her as she guarded her book against her chest, chewing on her bottom lip for a moment before she turned away. He kept watching as she checked the book out of the library from Madam Pince, but he had to quickly look back at his Charms essay when Hermione turned toward him for a moment before she left the library.
He still didn't like to think about it, but the summer had changed her. Her parents' house, along with most of her belongings, had been destroyed in a Death Eater attack while she and Ron had been with Harry and her parents were, thankfully, away on holiday. Her parents were now being protected by the Order, even back to work now that wards had been set up to keep them safe there as well.
Hermione had, almost overnight, become quiet...reflective. She'd receded into the background a bit, both in their lessons and during their off-hours. She took her schoolwork seriously for as much time as she could devote to it, but she no longer tried to answer every question asked by one of their professors. She was much more interested in spending her extra hours in the library looking for ways to help Harry than she was in revising.
It was ridiculous, really. She no longer nagged him about schoolwork, something he'd wished for more often than he could remember. Instead of being happy, he worried over her, at the changes that everyone else seemed to welcome as a relaxation of her bossy, know-it-all demeanor of previous years.
His feelings for her were the same—confused, as always. He loved her, he knew that now. At the same time, knew she could never be satisfied with someone like him. He'd known that since last year. Since forever, really.
He should be with someone less extraordinary than Hermione was, he knew, after finding out how serious she'd been with Viktor. Then when Lavender threw herself at him, he'd taken her up on it. She was probably still out of his league, pretty as she was, but the silly, giggling girl hadn't been bothered by that.
If he was being honest with himself, the fiasco with Lavender only lasted as long as it had because she seemed to be content to merely snog all the time, at least in the beginning. He had a healthy interest in that subject, much more than he had in the Charms essay lying on the table in front of him. He couldn't deny that he'd imagined kissing an altogether different girl once his eyes were closed, though.
While it hadn't worked out with Lavender, he hoped he could find a way to be happy with a girl like Lavender, a girl who might not grow bored of him the way he was sure Hermione would.
He just wasn't sure that would ever be true. He couldn't imagine himself with anyone other than Hermione, yet he couldn't imagine Hermione truly wanting to be with him.
Ron sighed and forced his eyes to focus on the blurry parchment before him. He needed to finish this essay before it was time to meet Hermione back in Gryffindor Tower. He finally forced himself to put his quill back to the parchment, leaning over the parchment as he tried to quiet the storm brewing in his mind.