THAT PIVOTAL MOMENT
A/N - Thanks to Suburban House Elf, my beta reader, for wrestling with the Mother-Of-All-Back-Story Paragraphs and emerging victorious!
And - many thanks to my hubby Don, who provided lots of extremely useful input.
It's the way you love me
It's a feeling like this
It's centrifugal motion
It's perpetual bliss
It's that pivotal moment
This Kiss, This Kiss
This Kiss, This Kiss
- Faith Hill
Ron Weasley sat on an uncomfortable iron bench at the train station, looking very bewildered. He hated goodbyes, and he was trying to sort this particular one out in his mind. Trying to mentally sort out his life, however, was going to take a while. And no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't put his finger on where things had gone so horribly wrong.
One minute he was seated next to Hermione at Dumbledore's funeral, feeling like he was actually good at something, holding Hermione and stroking her hair, comforting her as best he could.
The next minute, or so it felt, he was here at the train station in London waiting while Hermione and Viktor Krum purchased two tickets to Viktor's hometown in Bulgaria. He had invited her to visit his parents over the Christmas holiday.
Hermione's parents, being open-minded Muggles, were nonetheless quite alarmed at the idea of their daughter Apparating over hundreds of miles to a foreign country. They were aware of her advanced magical abilities, but no amount of Hermione's skill or repeated assurances could assuage their fears. They had been somewhat appeased at the idea of her making the journey under the condition that she and Viktor use a more familiar Muggle mode of transport. This meant that the two of them would be spending two days alone together on the train, which nettled Ron, but served to comfort the Grangers somewhat.
"Where have I gone wrong?" He pounded his forehead as if it would loosen the answer.
At their request, he had promised Hermione's parents he would see Hermione and Viktor off at the station. Her parents had practically pleaded with him. He'd gotten the impression, which oddly enough pleased him, that they rather liked him. At least that's how they sounded when he spoke with her father on his dad's fellytone when Hermione rang them up to tell them she was going. His own mum had insisted he go with them, too. In fact, she was positively adamant about it. Why, he wondered, were they being so pushy? He could tell when he wasn't wanted. So he'd told Hermione he was going to London anyway, to visit Fred and George at their shop in Diagon Alley.
She had definitely seemed annoyed at this.
"What am I doing?" His thoughts were circling round and round, and he felt like he was getting nowhere.
"Start from the beginning," he told himself in an effort to grasp the situation. Hogwarts had re-opened at the end of the summer and he and Hermione had returned for their seventh year. The Order of the Phoenix had set up Headquarters at Hogwarts as well, which helped nervous parents a bit with the decision to allow their children to return. Harry lived at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place when he wasn't leading weekly meetings of the D.A. at Hogwarts or moving ever closer to the goal of collecting and destroying the Horcruxes. Beauxbatons and Durmstrang schools had taken up residence at Hogwarts as well in an effort to join together in training for the fight against Voldemort. With all of this happening at once, and Harry needing both he and Hermione at a moment's notice, Ron assumed he had been too busy to spend time on a serious relationship with her. "Hadn't I?" he asked himself for the umpteenth time.
There was, after all, a war going on.
Ron had been so busy he'd hardly noticed when Viktor Krum flew in to join the Durmstrang students. Viktor, who had now left school, was supposed to be Durmstrang's "emissary to the D.A." some sort of useless job that gave him tons of free time. It was also a position that placed him in close proximity with Hermione.
"Too close," Ron admitted bitterly.
No, "Vicky" hadn't been too busy. He appeared to pick up with Hermione right where he had left off, much to Ron's dismay.
Besides, Ron assumed he and Hermione had - an understanding. She should just know how he felt about her.
A hesitant voice inside his head asked, "Shouldn't she?"
He had shown his feelings for her loads of times, he told himself. He always sat with her at meals, and in the common room he always let her write no, he let her help him write his class assignments, and they bloody well fought side-by-side with Harry on a regular basis. He wouldn't do that with just anyone! If that doesn't prove how a bloke feels, what does?
He was sure that the fragrance he had detected from the cauldron of Amortentia potion in Slughorn's classroom last year was Hermione's the smell of the hand soap from the prefect's bathroom, the clean aroma of freshly laundered robes and the musky scent of her leather book bag. He tried justifying his actions, or lack of same, but it was no use. Hadn't he shown her? She was, after all, well - Hermione.
Next thing Ron knew, Viktor had shown up with his bloody manners and his filthy foreign ways, clicking his heels and bowing in that annoying habit of his. Ron noticed how every time the "Bulgarian Bon-Bon" kissed Hermione's hand, she went all pink in the face. And he called her "Herm-own-ninny," for goodness sake. He couldn't even say her name right. Why that was attractive to a girl, he'd never know.
"Ruddy pumpkin head."
So when Hermione had told him Viktor had invited her to Bulgaria to meet his parents, what was he supposed to say? "No, don't go?" He wouldn't stand in her way. She wasn't underage anymore. He had, apparently, taken for granted that she was his. She was always there.
"Things weren't supposed to turn out like this." He'd come round to that realization again.
His thoughts spiraled onto a new track. The Quidditch matter. How could he hope to compete with Viktor's status? "Oh sure," he thought glumly, "Quidditch may not be important to Hermione, but Krum is a superstar." He was the veritable rock god of the Quidditch world. He had achieved things and been places Ron could only dream about. If Hermione wasn't impressed, Ron clearly was.
As if that wasn't enough, another nagging accusation surfaced. How could Hermione accuse him of having the emotional range of a teaspoon? He had plenty of range. She ought to know, from all the arguments they'd had over the years, how wide his emotional range was, and how strongly he felt about things.
"No, that's no good," he told himself. "She only knows how angry and pig-headed I can get." Their arguing hadn't told her a thing. But she was smart. Why didn't she see beyond all that?
In his own defense, he noted, she had always driven him crazy. If he wasn't any good at showing her how he felt about her, maybe it wasn't entirely his fault. It was "Wingardium Levi-o-sa" in their first year. And it was the cat-and-rat fight in their third year. They didnt even speak to each other for quite a while after he thought that Crookshanks had eaten Scabbers. After that it was her obsession with S.P.E.W. Then it was watching her become overwhelmed with anxiety as she awaited her O.W.L. results, which, of course, had been perfect. And he couldn't forget how she had dive-bombed him with a wreath of vicious little birds when he was being a prat last year with Lavender -
"Oh, Merlin," he sighed. "I have been a prat."
That was it. There was no getting round it anymore. He couldn't stand in her way, if being with Viktor was what she really wanted. Not after the way he'd treated her.
He looked up to see Hermione and Viktor standing next to him on the platform, tickets in hand. Hermione looked a bit pale. The last call for boarding sounded overhead from the loudspeaker. Viktor extended his hand to Ron, who stood and looked him square in the eye as he took it.
"Goot-bye, Ron," Viktor said brusquely, pumping Ron's hand with an iron grip. Ron winced and nodded. He noticed Viktor place his hand on Hermione's elbow in an attempt to guide her towards the train.
"You go on, Viktor," said Hermione. "I'll be along."
Viktor frowned, but obeyed. He hesitated halfway to the train car, glanced back at them over his shoulder, then turned sharply and climbed inside.
"Thanks for seeing us off," Hermione said.
"See you after the holiday, then?"
"Right. See you."
Now it was Hermione's turn to look bewildered. She turned to leave.
"Hermione " Ron blurted.
"Have have a good Christmas. And New Year's."
"Oh." She bit her lower lip. Her eyes were rimmed with tears. "Thanks. You do the same."
Ron knew he should hug her goodbye it was expected but later he couldn't believe what he did next. He stuck out his hand to shake hers. Hermione looked down at it, an expression of hurt and disbelief in her eyes as tears splashed silently down her cheeks.
"Oh!" Ron was suddenly aware that he'd blundered again, and he pulled a checkered handkerchief out of his pocket. "Here," he said, offering it to her.
"Thanks," she replied miserably as she blotted here eyes with it.
"Are you sure you want to go?" Ron asked, painfully aware of the clumsiness of this question.
"Can you think of a reason why I shouldn't?" Hermoine shot back.
"Well, I I'd like to, really "
"Never mind," she said woefully.
"No, no, wait! It's cold in Bulgaria this time of year, Hermione, it's really cold and you'll freeze to death."
"It's alright Ron. I said never mind."
"And and there's Harry! You're the best in our year, and he really needs you. Now more than ever."
"Well well, possibly Neville "
"Don't, Ron. Honestly. You'll only ruin things again."
"But, I don't mean to!" Ron moaned. "I don't want to! I "
"You what, Ron? You want me to do it all for you? Spell it out for you? Like your homework? You don't want to have to do anything or say anything on your own!"
"I well, I, that's completely "
"Completely what? You never say what you think about me, really. Except to tell me that I obsess over school or show you up at exams or don't know anything about Quidditch. You just want me around to correct your spelling or mop up your ink stains or or build up your precious, deflated Quidditch ego!"
"Well, I, that's not fair "
"Goodbye, Ron. Happy Christmas." Her voice was cold and final.
"Wait, Hermione! Wait " He ran after her as she hurried towards the carriage door. He grabbed the railings on either side of the door and looked up at her, blocking other passengers behind him.
"I need you. Me. I do."
She seemed to hesitate. He wasn't sure how he knew, but it was agonizingly obvious to him now. "I always have," he added.
She looked down at him, pain and anger etched on her face. "Viktor needs me, too," she said softly, then turned and disappeared into the carriage.
"Excuse me, young man "
Ron stepped aside to allow the other passengers to get by him. He staggered back along the platform, completely dumbstruck. He couldn't believe what had just happened. People rushed past him to board the train, but he barely noticed them. He felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him. He waited a few minutes until the last passenger had boarded, and then he stood there, paralyzed, not sure what to do next.
The doors closed and the train began to move slowly out of the station. He took a few more halting steps back, the rumble of the cars as they lumbered by on the tracks shaking him. He watched as car after car passed, the windows and faces blurred as the train picked up speed. Finally the last car passed him. He stared at it in disbelief. The train was gone.
Ron couldn't move at first. He finally made his way towards the exit, his feet shuffling slowly along. He thought he should skip Diagon Alley altogether. He didn't have the heart for much of anything at the moment. In his mental state of shock, he felt as if he should just walk for days and days the entire way back to The Burrow.
Before he turned to exit the station, he glanced across the tracks at the platform on the other side. Stepping out from the archway directly opposite was a familiar bushy-haired figure clutching a school bag and a small suitcase. She looked very hesitant and appeared to be very alone. Ron blinked and gaped at her as if he were seeing a ghost.
"Hermione!" He stepped off the platform towards the tracks, not caring if there was a raging locomotive headed straight for him. He stumbled at first and then broke into a jog, scaling the rails and bounding onto the pavement on the other side. He skidded to a halt in front of her, a goofy grin spreading across his face.
"Hermione!" he gasped. "What did you just do? You you got off the train!" He pointed aimlessly down the tracks. "Where's Viktor?"
"Well," she said smugly, "I assumed you meant you didn't need him as well."
Ron virtually beamed from head to toe like a Christmas tree. "Here. Let me take those." He took her bags and hurled them aside unceremoniously. Then he scooped her up and lifted her off her feet, hugging her as if he were afraid to let her go. She threw her arms around his neck and hung there, burying her face against his neck. He set her down and stroked her hair away from her face with both his hands, his thumbs brushing away fresh tears from her cheeks. He then kissed her and pulled her to him whilst he did so in a crushing embrace. He could feel her lips part into a smile. He kissed her smile repeatedly and then opened his eyes to see her looking up at him. Her eyes were smiling, too.
"What?" he asked, nose-to-nose with her so that she appeared cross-eyed. "Have I done it wrong?"
"What did Viktor say?"
"About what? Your kissing?"
"No about you getting off the train."
"It was sort of his idea."
"What he dumped you?"
"No. He could tell something was wrong. He told me it was all right if I stayed. He said he understood."
"He did dump you!"
"No. He admitted defeat."
Ron paused at this. "He said I beat him?"
"He admitted you are the better man."
"I beat Viktor Krum!"
"Well, in a way, yes."
He picked her up again and her feet dangled off the ground. He set her down again suddenly. "Hold on you wanted to leave the train, right? I mean, he said you could, but you didn't want to go with him, right?"
Her face went pink with embarrassment. Just like when Viktor kissed her hand, Ron thought. "I I was in such a hurry to leave the train," she said, suppressing a grin, "I almost left without my bags."
"Yesssssss!" Ron pumped the air with his fist.
"I am not a Quidditch match."
"It was my choice."
"Absolutely. I always did say he was all wrong for you."
"He was too old."
"Not me! Not me." He raised his hands in resignation. He drew her close and kissed her again for a very long time, just to feel sure she wasn't going anywhere.
Now his life could be defined into two categories by this single event: Before Kissing Hermione and After Kissing Hermione. If he had a cauldron full of Amortentia here on the platform with them right now, he knew just how it would smell to him. Now it would be peppermint toothpaste and honeysuckle hair rinse and strawberry lip-gloss. No matter how many passengers passed by or how many porters saw them, he continued to kiss her without distraction. He wanted the assurance of knowing that the train wasn't going to back up to the platform and try to take her away again.