With thanks to my
beta reader, the wonderful Suburban House Elf.
For the next few minutes,
Hermione covered her confusion by concentrating on Ron’s essay. The worn-out
Spell-Checking quill had made a real mess of it. Even so, this second paragraph
describing the Occlumency theory of dealing with Dementors was dreadful. You’d
think that even if Ron couldn’t be bothered to listen to Professor Snape,
he might remember something about the basic method from Harry’s experiences
last year. Not her problem. She’d always refused to actually do the work for
them and she wasn’t about to start now …
“Sort of fell apart,
yeah …” Harry’s words filtered through. They were talking about Lavender now.
“…the more I hint I want
to finish it, the tighter she holds on …”
Hermione stopped reading
and her wand remained poised, unmoving. The writing on the parchment danced
in front of her eyes. They sounded so casual, as though they discussed this
sort of thing all the time. Well, Harry was easy to talk to, she knew that.
Ron was another matter. Hermione wasn’t an idiot. She’d known Ron a long time.
She could hazard a hopeful guess as to the meaning behind the surly expression
he wore these days, every time he reappeared from Lavender’s clutches. Or
the impatient glances he would shoot in Lavender’s direction when her high-pitched
giggle rang out around the common room. No, Hermione wasn’t an idiot. She
knew these were good signs. Signs on not quite the same scale as hearing him
refer to Lavender as ‘the Giant Squid,’ mind.
Ron and Harry went back
to talking about Slughorn’s memory. Sinking back into her chair, Hermione
held Ron’s essay up in front of her face, as though she were looking closely
at one of the feebler spellings, and allowed her overloaded brain a moment
to slow down. “I love you, Hermione.” Oh, don’t be such an idiot. She wasn’t going to fool
herself – or even pretend for a second – that it had been anything
but an offhand remark. But she knew Ron. Better than anyone she knew how easily,
unthinkingly his words – usually spoken in temper – betrayed him.
Speak first, think later, or not at all. That’s how it went with Ron.
Hermione remembered the
other time – well over a year ago now – that she’d sat here, just
like this, correcting a different homework. Harry’s too that time. What had
it been? Astronomy, that’s right. The essays hadn’t been that memorable, Jupiter’s
moons or something … Easier than this one anyway. Hermione squinted at the
parchment, correcting absentmindedly once more. Could he really not have noticed
some of these? I mean, honestly … Surely even Ron knew how to spell Patronus? But that
night stood out in her mind for another reason. It had been the night she’d
realised (not for the first time perhaps but certainly the clearest she’d
seen it until then) that he wasn’t just go-with-the-flow-Ron. Or take-the-path-of-least-resistance-Ron. Then there was won’t-stand-up-to-his-brothers-Ron, closely related to doesn’t-take-being-a-prefect-seriously-Ron. Not forgetting the classic messes-about-constantly-in-lessons-Ron.
She remembered the look
on Harry’s face as they’d read Percy’s letter together. The same bleak, blank,
carefully-composed look that crossed it whenever he was trying to pretend
he didn’t care. The look which always reminded Hermione that Harry had been
alone for ten years before he’d come to Hogwarts. She remembered even more
clearly Ron’s face as he’d taken back the letter – closed, set, determined.
This, then, was stand-up-for-your-friends-Ron. How many times had he stood up for her? One step further
on from that was stand-by-them-at-all-costs-Ron. And then it hit her. That, to her, he was Really Quite
Extraordinary Ron, for that reason alone. Which was the moment Hermione realised
she’d never be able to go back to seeing him in a lesser light again, no matter
what he did.
Oh, she’d tried. These
past few months, she’d really given it her best possible shot. And he’d done
everything to make it easy for her by being, it seemed, almost wilfully cruel
at times. Not that she hadn’t given as good as she got. Hermione’s cheeks
grew hot. Ron wasn’t the only one who needed to think first sometimes. She’d
never admit it to Harry – or Ron – but Hermione couldn’t help
but feel that if she’d had Professor Snape as Defence teacher since first
year, she’d be as good at controlling her wilder impulses as she was at attacking
Hermione sighed and tapped
at another word. Oops, no, perhaps he had
meant to write “hungry” rather than “angry sole-socking friends”. She’d used
to wonder whether Ron would have worked harder at lessons if he hadn’t been
Harry’s best friend. She’d speculate whether he might have ended up doing
a sensible subject like Arithmancy or Ancient Runes instead of Divination.
She’d even entertained little fantasies about them studying in the library
together. No wonder he’d gone off with Lavender.
“You can’t fix people,
Hermione,” her mum had said at Christmas, holding her as she sobbed, finally
able to relax her guard, away from school, away from the girls’ dormitory.
“B – but I –
I only wanted him to b – be what I knew he could be. What I thought
he wanted to be …”
“Oh, my clever, brave
girl. That’s just what you can’t have. Not if you want a happy life.” Taken
aback, Hermione’s sobs had shuddered to a halt, as she considered this.
“Wh – what am
I going to d – do?”
“Give it time, my
love. You’ll work it out.”
And she had. Weeks later,
on Ron’s birthday, she’d gone to hide in the library to cry a bit more over
the present she now had no intention of giving him, the one she’d bought in
Fred and George’s shop all those months before. Professor McGonagall had found
her, perhaps not knowing about the rift, perhaps not thinking it was important,
and told her, briefly but gently, that Ron had been poisoned. That he was
alive but it was too early to say if there would be any permanent damage.
For the next eight hours, Hermione’s world had shrunk to: ‘Let him be all
right. Let him be all right and I’ll never ask for anything else. Let him
be all right and I’ll be his friend again. Let him be all right.” Over and
The next day, she’d sat
in the chair next to his bed and watched him sleep for a bit. Happy that he
was who he’d always been. And when he woke up, he caught her looking because
she didn’t look away. They didn’t need to speak to know that they were both
glad to be back.
Hermione tapped the last
word on Ron’s essay and handed it to him. “There,” she said, meaning, “I love