Title: He Wasn’t
Word Count: 11,504 – a “little” one parter
Ship: Ron/Hermione, who else?
Rating: R-ish because I always thought HP need a little cursing
Disclaimer: JKR has given us seven books of PHENOMENAL writing. She is an inspiration – showing how a pen, some paper, and imagination can change the world. It’s bittersweet to see that HP has come to an end… even though that will never ever really be true. I’m thankful to be given the chance to play in this wonderful realm that she has created. And…God bless her for giving the women of the world Ron Weasley.
Beta: I feel as if I should a great big I’m-not-worthy bow to the two lovely ladies that are loverlydaisy520 and queenb23. Amazing doesn’t even begin to cover it. To the always wonderful queenb for her lightening fast, Speedy Gonzales betaing skills - thank you for your tireless effort and for stretching my mind about a certain two-colored named girl. And to the forever sweet loverlydaisy for her unwavering support and extensive beta work - thanks so much for the laughter, for being my ear to run things by, and for helping to work out all the little “loot poles” in the story. In short: y’all rock!
AN: There have been many ideas surrounding what exactly happened to R/H on the night of Slughorn’s Christmas party, but only JK knows for sure. I started writing this roughly eleven months ago and it’s come a long way since then. The plot’s a bit of a stretch, and I even almost scraped it once but couldn’t bear to let the idea go. I continue to be astounded by the energy, encouragement, and sheer kindness I find in the HP community. I truly hope y’all enjoy reading.
Excerpt: “He wasn’t. – He wasn’t supposed to be there. He wasn’t supposed to be looking at her so utterly concerned. He wasn’t supposed to be her protector. He wasn’t supposed to be drying the tears that he hadn’t caused. He wasn’t supposed to be drying the ones that he had. – He wasn’t.” // an HBP missing moment, the night of Slughorn’s Christmas party…
Amoris vulnus idem sanat, qui facit.
The wounds of love can only be healed by the one who made them. -- Syrus Publilius
Hermione couldn’t breathe. She kept gasping for air, but her lungs simply seemed to reject each shallow breath. Every time she opened her mouth to inhale oxygen, tears clogged her throat. She was growing panicky. It was an important thing, breathing. She knew that soon it was going to be a possibility that she could hyperventilate, pass out, or even die. Some part of her was terrified that she wasn’t even frightened by the prospect of death anymore. Actually, at that moment, a small irrational part of her even wished for it. All she wanted was a break, some peace from the unbelievable hurt that was aching to take over her very soul.
It wasn’t supposed to have been like this, not even in the littlest bit. These were the reasons why revenge and jealousy should have been two of the seven deadliest sins. Note to self, Hermione thought bitterly, spite will backfire. She wondered how she could have been so incredibly foolish. What would have even possessed her to put herself in that type of situation?
She knew. It was the image of Lavender Brown’s overly glossed lips glued tighter than a sticking charm to a one Ronald Weasley playing itself over and over again in her mind like some kind of magical Polaroid. She wanted him to feel what she was feeling, and Cormac McLaggen seemed like the perfect scapegoat. For a second, it had felt oddly triumphant for her to see the flicker of pain cross Ron’s features when she announced that she was going to Slughorn’s party with the almost Gryffindor Keeper. For the first time in weeks, he had shown something other than passive indifference towards her. But did all of that even matter now? What did she have to show for her twisted victory – being trapped under a horrid little sprig of mistletoe as a troll-sized bloke’s hand raked over her body?
In hindsight, Hermione knew that what had happened was hardly an earth-shattering or life-altering event. Wasn’t Ginny supposed to be the one with the flare for dramatic storytelling? The entire altercation had maybe lasted a total of ten seconds, and that included her kneeing him and running away. She had helped Harry face Voldemort nearly a half of dozen times already, for Pete’s sake. A self-absorbed seventh year was hardly something to be afraid of. However, she was. A bit terrified now, actually. It was just that she had never felt so completely… violated in her entire life. Since she was eleven years old, the majority of her time had been spent with two blokes, and they had never, not even close, made her as cheap, as used, or as helpless as McLaggen managed to do in that deserted corridor.
Hermione let herself fall into the warm recesses of the gold and crimson sheets and desperately willed the tears to stop surfacing. They seemed to burn as they dripped a slow trail down her face. She closed her eyes and pleaded with her mind to stop thinking. She begged it to stop replaying snips and pieces of the last weeks, of everything that led up to tonight. Finally, her body seemed to have calmed down enough to allow her to draw in a deep breath. Relief flooded her system for a small second, and she pressed her wet cheek into the cool pillow. Then she drew the covers up to her chin, hoping to be able to succumb to sleep.
“Where in the bloody hell have you been!” Harry shouted at his best mate when his green eyes saw the portrait hole swing open and a messy tangle of red hair appear behind it. For moment after the Fat Lady’s portrait had fallen shut behind him, Ron’s ears blushed scarlet in embarrassment at having been out mindlessly snogging with Lavender, again.
“Off,” he said, effectively avoiding the question and answering it at the same time. “Why, what happened?”
Harry looked out through his rounded spectacles and paused. His mind weighed all the various reactions Ron was sure to have with the information he was about to give him. Finally, he softly said, “Hermione.”
With that one simple word, he watched his best friend’s heart plummet to the pit of his stomach. If he had to guess, Harry would have wagered that stark images of a pale, petrified, thirteen year old Hermione were currently running through Ron’s impossibly thick head.
It was true. Flashes of glassy, glazed, and lifeless eyes exploded in his mind. Ron really wouldn’t have been surprised if at any minute, slugs started spewing forth from his throat. He felt miserable, worse than miserable. While he had been out exchanging meaningless kisses with Lavender, Hermione had been…
“What happened?” he asked in a meek voice.
Harry shifted his eyes to the only other vibrant redhead still at Hogwarts who happened to be in the same room, seated next to him on the settee. Harry tried to judge if Ginny would be able to control her brother if he went completely mad.
“At Slughorn’s party, I ran into Hermione, and she looked as if she had another run in with Devil’s Snare. Her date,” Ron visibility cringed at the word, “with McLaggen didn’t seem to be going too well. She practically vanished when she thought he was coming over. Then Gin told me…” Harry trailed off and looked in her direction, begging her with his eyes for him not to have to tell the next part.
“What, Harry? Gin? Tell me!” Ron said with a quick breath.
“I was coming back from Slughorn’s,” Ginny explained, turning towards him. “and I spotted Hermione in the corridor with this dazed look on her face… It was like she had forgotten where Gryffindor was or something.” Her words were slow, waiting to gauge Ron’s reaction before continuing. “Her hair was a mess… more than the usual, and her clothes were a bit off.” Ron’s eyes jumped at her words, and Ginny regretted them immediately. She didn’t know how to describe Hermione’s frazzled state without it sounding like insinuation. “When I asked her what was wrong, she just stared at me for a moment before bursting into tears, mumbling something about McLaggen, and running off.”
Harry watched as Ron paled for a split second before taking on an expression he had only seen once before - when Malfoy had called Hermione a Mudblood for the first time. The redhead’s fists clenched, and his eyes flared. “That bleeding wank—”
“Ron, wait!” he shouted, jumping up and bolting after Ron with Ginny following in his wake. But, it was too late. Ron’s long legs had already carried him halfway up the staircase to the seventh years’ dormitory.
Ginny quickly grabbed Harry’s forearm, holding him back while forcing his body to turn towards hers and causing the rapidly growing monster in his chest to purr in satisfaction. “Wait,” she breathed. “Let him defend her honor.” A small, sad smile formed across her lips. “That’s the only thing the insufferable git understands about his feelings for her, his need to protect her.”
Harry nodded, although he doubted that it was the only thing Ron understood about his feelings. However, he decided that now wasn’t exactly the best time to discuss his best mate moaning Hermione’s name in his sleep.
They caught up to Ron just as he had plowed through the last door down the hall without bothering to knock. McLaggen, along with two other seventh year boys, looked up at the intrusion.
“What did you do to Hermione!” Ron demanded, his voice coming out in forceful waves.
Cormac let his eyes wander over the trespasser, assessing his enemy. He glanced back at his two friends and smirked. Slinking off his bed and raising himself to his full height, he said. “What is it to you, Weasley? You don’t have any claim on her. We’ve all seen that you’ve somehow managed to bag the lovely Miss Brown.” The other boys laughed. “Ditzy but beautiful, if I must say. Yes, what a lovely bag she is. Why Hermione looks like a right tomboy next to a bird like Lavender.”
If McLaggen was expecting size or age to intimidate Ron, then he was sorely mistaken. Growing up with five older brothers, the redhead had quickly learned that the old adage was true. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Ron pointed his wand at the seventh year’s chest. “What the fuck did you do to Hermione!” he roared.
“Fucking?” Cormac questioned with a pompous grin. “No, no. We didn’t shag. The bookworm may have dolled up nice, but I knew she wasn’t going to let me into her knickers on the first go—”
Red fury exploded behind Ron’s eyes, and he barely felt as his hand wrapped around the other boy’s throat. McLaggen’s back forcefully collided into the wall with a violent thud. Although shorter by an inch or two, Ron had hoisted the arrogant git up by his neck until his feet were barely grazing against the hardwood floor. “Shut your fucking mouth,” he spoke in a deadly whisper as Cormac spluttered and gagged. “If you even think about touching her again, you’re dead. That’s a promise.”
Harry, who had been shocked into sheer silence, watched as their eyes locked. He hoped that the expression Cormac saw on Ron’s face was making him shake as much on the inside as he was on the outside. After a moment, he regretfully stepped forward and tugged lightly on the back of Ron’s rumpled uniform shirt. “Ease up, mate. He’s turning blue.” Ron didn’t move. “Look, I know Gin’s a right good actress, but I doubt if even she could lie our way of this if you kill him.” Harry hated to play the mediator. He wanted to be right there with Ron, making damn sure McLaggen knew that someone didn’t mess with Hermione without consequences. But he knew that this wasn’t his battle to fight.
“Don’t mind him, Ron. He’s just thinking with his tiny little prig,” Ginny said, grasping her brother’s hand that was around the other boy’s throat and loosening it until she heard McLaggen inhale a gulp of air. “You must be pretty damn stupid to mess with a clever girl like Hermione,” she added, addressing the still-restrained seventh year. People like to underestimate her because of her affection for rules, but they forget that everything has a loophole. She can be far more ruthless than by mere brute force.” Ron saw his sister’s eyes sparkle with that glint he had seen so many times in Fred and George. “Why with a brilliant witch like her, a single drop of potion in your morning pumpkin juice could make it,” her gaze dropped below his waist level, “soft for life.”
The implications of her statement hung in the air until one of the other seventh years laughed. Ron smirked, his gaze piercing McLaggen’s for a second longer before delivering a swift punch to his jaw with a sickening crunch, effectively splitting his lip. He let the older boy slump to the ground in a bloodied heap before crossing the room to his sister.
He was halfway out the door when McLaggen spit blood and wiped away the rest of the dribbling, metallic liquid with the back of his hand. “You got a feisty one there, Weasley.” He said gruffly as his eyes greedily drifted over Ginny’s form. “I might not even need mistletoe for her.”
Both redheads spun around, but to the amazement of everyone in the room, Harry was faster. His fist connected with McLaggen’s face, and Ron was shocked that he never knew that his best mate had such a solid right hook. When Harry looked up, Ron’s eyes met his and they nodded to each other in understanding. The three of them then moved to leave once again, Ron pausing just inside the doorway to say, “Remember, McLaggen, I always make good on my promises.”
They didn’t speak on their way down the stairs, and when they reached the common room, Ron flung himself into the nearest chair, a satisfied grin on his face.
“You really can be a stupid, idiotic arse sometimes, Ron.” Ginny said, smacking him on the back of the head as she perched herself on the arm of his chair. “I hope you realize that you would have suffocated him if we hadn’t been there to stop you.”
“Stop it, Ginny,” he said, giving her a half shove. He knew he wouldn’t have killed McLaggen. He had seen the twins test their products on themselves enough times to know when someone was truly in danger of passing out. But he wanted to leave no doubt in Cormac’s mind that he wouldn’t hesitate to hurt him until he wished he were dead. “He wasn’t going to suffocate, but even if he did it would have been only half of what that wanker deserved. You heard what he said.”
“Yeah, but we all knew it was a bunch of codswallop. Cormac McLaggen isn’t going to touch me or Hermione with his grubby paws. He was just letting his ego bait your anger, and as usual, you rose the occasion magnificently.”
“It doesn’t matter if it isn’t true. He isn’t supposed to be talking about you lot like that. No one is.” Ron ran a tired hand through his hair. “I—We still don’t even know what happened between him and Hermione tonight.” His eyes flicked to his sister, looking at her for the first time. “Run and get her to come downstairs.”
Ginny snorted and gave him a pointed glare. “Do I look like your ruddy house elf? I’ve done enough for you already tonight, thanks. If you want Hermione to come down, you can go get her yourself.”
“Piss off, Gin. Just go get Hermione, please,” he said with a sigh. “You know I’ll trip the alarm if I touch the girls’ stairs.”
“For once in your life you’d be right if she was actually in the girls’ dormitory.”
“Where is she then?”
“Our room,” Harry cut in.
Ron’s head jerked in his direction, “Wha?”
Once again, Harry sent pleading eyes at Ginny. She sighed and rolled her own in return. “If you would have finished letting me explain in the first place, I would have told you that after she ran off I caught up with her later in the common room. Don’t you dare tell her that I let you know, but she confessed that she didn’t want to be up in her room when Lav-Lav came back and started gossiping about… you know, you. I suggested that she could kip in you lot’s room for a bit before everyone came up to bed.”
“You’ve got your own bloody room, Ginny. Why ours?” Ron said as that nervous, twisty feeling started to take up in his stomach.
“Why not?” she countered with a coy smirk that said she knew exactly what she was doing.
“Blimey, just bugger it all to hell then!” Ron exclaimed. Quickly, he all but barreled out of the chair and bolted up the boys’ stairs.
Hermione had heard the low rumble of commotion reverberating up and down the stairs but tried to ignore it. She was too drained to convince herself to go and see what trivial misbehavior some younger boys had gotten up to, and she told herself that another prefect would surely handle it… eventually. For once, she was going to stay exactly where she was instead of playing rule enforcer or peacemaker. If Ron knew, he’d be shocked.
The pillow her head was nestled against held an earthy and spicy scent to it that her brain immediately associated with Ron. It made her wonder if the boys’ linens and clothes were washed in a different detergent than the girls’ were. She knew she shouldn’t be here. It was stupid of her to let Ginny convince her that it’d be alright to hide away in the boys’ dormitory for a bit. One of the many stupid decisions she seemed to be making lately. Her mind, heart, and body had waged a war against each other. At this moment, she hated all things males with a passion, yet she was currently squirreled away in one’s bed. You should have countered Ginny’s offer with a request to stay in her room, Hermione thought even as she breathed in more of the poignant scent that seemed cling to the sheets. It doesn’t matter if her roommates don’t like you very much. She sniffed and knew that logically she should have been in Ginny’s or much less her own. But, she wasn’t thinking very logically right now.
Hermione didn’t want to have to deal with the younger girls’ accusing stares (they had never gotten over the fact that she had threatened detention if they continued using Fred and George’s Skiving Snackboxes). And the thought of having to listen to Parvarti and Lavender gossip about the wonderful playthings that are boys, especially a certain tall redhead, made her ill. So she let Ginny tempt her with the alluring thought that the boys’ room would be nice and quiet because surely they wouldn’t be back until much later.
She had resisted at first, citing that she simply wanted to stay in front of the fire. However Ginny hadn’t grown up the youngest of six brothers without learning a thing or two about the powers of persuasion. All she had to do for resistance to be futile was ask Hermione what she would do if Cormac came down to enjoy the fire too. In an instant, Hermione was up and off the couch, climbing the stairs to the boy’s sixth floor, knowing it was wrong with each step she took.
She was starting to wonder why anyone had ever called her brilliant because at the moment she felt as brilliant as a troll. I’ve been so stupid, she thought as she twisted in the bed and pulled the sheets into a tighter cocoon around herself, childish. She was seventeen, an adult by wizarding standards, and she had been acting like a child. Sending out attack canaries, and asking a boy to a party only for revenge… mature, rational people didn’t do those things. Hermione felt disgusted with herself that she had attempted to use someone for the sake of jealousy. Probably why he tried to use you too, she told herself crossly. She felt naïve, almost arrogant. She never thought something like this would have happened to her. Hermione was used to being strong, in control, and having all the answers. It had scared her to her core that when it mattered she had froze. She was mad Cormac for his actions tonight, and mad at Ron for giving her false hope, but most of all she was angry at herself. She had abandoned logic, the basis of her existence, and now she was paying for it.
Hermione was just about to pull the duvet up to her nose to inhale more of the increasingly intoxicating scent when the door opened with a small bang. She froze. Not daring to a move even a single muscle so as not to make a sound, she hoped that Seamus, Neville, or Dean would get whatever they came for quickly and leave. But, as the footsteps shuffled forward, she knew by their weight and pace that she was doomed. She held her breath and ignored the small flutter of relief in her heart that it was Him.
“Hermione?” he questioned feebly as he eyed the closed hangings of Harry’s four-poster bed. His query was met with silence.
Nestled in the pocket of warm linens, Hermione shut her eyes and bit back a harsh breath. Although her body felt a twinge of perverse pleasure that he had come looking for her, that didn’t mean she wanted to speak with him. In the days before she found him with his lips attached to Lavender’s, he had alternated being shirty with her for no apparent reason and ignoring her altogether. She figured that if he could dish it out, then he could surely take it too.
“Hermione,” he tried again, his voice a little less unsure. “I know you’re in here. Ginny told me.”
If she wasn’t so intent on being quiet and ignoring him, Hermione probably would have laughed. Of course Ginny told him. She knew the petite redhead had a secondary motive besides being a caring friend. She also knew that Ron didn’t handle silence very well. He was a Weasley and had grown up in a house full of lively and very vocal other Weasleys. Silence was unnatural to him. And how dare he come to interrupt her quiet exile. She should have known that even though their six-year friendship was quite fractured at the moment, he would rise above that to play the hero.
Don’t you mean the gallant knight in shining armor? her mind amended rather snidely.
“Hermione?” he tried for a third time moments later.
“Go away, Ron,” came a defiant voice slightly from his left.
Blue eyes widened, and Ron took half a step towards his own bed. “No,” he stated simply, staring absolutely gobsmacked at the gold curtains surrounding his own bed. He swallowed. “Not until you tell me what happened.”
“Nothing happened!” she snapped, frustrated. She wasn’t ready to talk about what happened. She was perfectly content to wallow in her pathetic self-pity. “Now go away!”
“No! I’m not leaving until you tell me what he did to you,” he said, feeling his temper starting to react to her tone.
“I said leave, Ron!” she shrieked, although she knew her heart wasn’t really in it. She wiped away the newly surfaced tears on the sleeve of her shirt.
Ron resisted the urge to kick something. Only Hermione could rile him up so quickly and with so few words. Only she could act like he did something wrong when he was simply worried about her. Only she would have the sheer gall to tell him to go away when she was the one lying in his bed. Bloody hell, he thought, she’s lying in my bed.
Banishing all of the implications of that thought from his mind, he inched a step closer with a shaking hand stretched out near the hangings. He hadn’t the foggiest what he was doing, but Ron knew he couldn’t bring himself to draw back the curtains just yet. He was afraid and anxious of what he might see or what he wanted to see. Plus, he knew that if he pushed her too hard, too fast, it would probably result in pain for him. For such small birds, canaries could be right dangerous.
“Hermione, I am not leaving,” he stated, standing up straighter and planting both feet more firmly on the ground. “I am going to stand in this spot until you tell me exactly what happened tonight.”
Once again, his declaration was met with silence. He wasn’t exactly surprised - Hermione wasn’t anything if she wasn’t stubborn. Moreover, he figured that maybe she wouldn’t be all that keen on talking to him since his imitation of her in Transfiguration. Well, she’s just going to have to get over her anger at me then, he grumbled to himself. I can be stubborn too.
Wordlessly, Hermione turned away from his voice and moved to lay on her other side. Through a crack in the curtains, she watched as the Christmas lights hanging off the castle danced against the windowpane. She usually loved to do this in bed, watching the lights. It gave her such a calm, serene feeling that put her instantly to sleep. Now, their pure white warmth just seemed to mock her.
“I have nothing to tell you, Ron, so leave!” she said, fed up.
Ron inwardly laughed at the idea that Hermione would think that he would give up that easy. “I can’t,” he shouted.
“Why not?” She snapped.
“Uh, well, you’re on my bed.” There was a long pause and Ron gave a nod to the closed bed curtains. Let’s see work her way out of the one.
Hermione’s face was flaming from embarrassment. Not only was she on his bed, she was in his bed. She had even smelled his sheets. She spluttered for a bit before finally shouting, “Then I suggest you start finding somewhere else to sleep!” She was furious that his mere presence seemed to further tangle her already muddled thoughts.
Ron was agape. With nothing to say, the minutes of quietness dragged on, and he abruptly realized that there weren’t any classes in the morning. This meant that if worse came to worst, he’d have to wait to corner her when she got up to eat or to use the loo. He was willing to stick out the wait but wasn’t fond of having to explain to his roommates, especially Seamus, why Hermione was in his bed. However, he would if he had to. It didn’t matter that for the past few weeks they hadn’t had a complete and civil conversation with each other. Something had happened to her tonight, and it superseded vicious but petty arguments, Lavender, canaries, Krum, and everything else that had kept their friendship at arm’s length as of late. Ron knew whatever had happened was big, he could feel it in his bones and see it in the eyes of Harry and Ginny. It came down to the simple fact that Hermione was hurting and he would be there for her, nothing else mattered.
“Please, Hermione,” he said with renewed earnest. It was near torture for him to be able to hear her tense breaths but not do anything about it.
There was another beat of silence before he was suddenly jumping back with a start. Hermione had roughly wrenched back the gold hangings, and her fingers were clinging to them in a white knuckled grip as she knelt near the center of his bed. “Why do you care?” she asked with anger and anguish laced throughout her voice.
“I—I,” Ron stammered. Even as his mind spun a million miles an hour to try and answer her question, his eyes automatically flicked across her features. She had changed and was dressed in white pajama pants that were littered with red and white candy canes along with a long sleeve maroon shirt. Her hair looked nearly alive in a crazy, frazzled mass of relaxed curls. Her lips were flushed, and they stood out in stark contrast to her pale, splotchy skin. Redness covered her nose, and there were tear tracks from her red-rimmed eyes to the top hem of her shirt. But Ron’s cobalt orbs were riveted on the budding greenish tinge of a bruise developing on her left temple.
“Did he do that to you?” he demanded. His voice was wound and tight with restrained fury.
Hermione wanted to lash out at him for not having answered her question, but the absolute horror-filled look in his eyes made her bite her tongue. “Do what?” she whispered, curious as to his abrupt change in demeanor. She realized too late that she had broken the long-standing vow to herself not to engage him in a conversation. However, once done, it felt like a weight was being lifted off her shoulders.
Ron stepped forward, and long, lean fingers gently grasped her jaw as he tilted her head to the side so carefully it was as if he thought she were made of porcelain. His thumb moved up to brush against the blemish delicately. “The bruise,” he said almost inaudibly, his voice catching. Tears of anger stung the backs of his eyes, but he refused to cry. Not in front of her.
His whole life he was taught that no matter how furious, you do not hit a girl. To his family, to him, it was unfathomable. Men do not hit women, it simply wasn’t done…especially to this woman.
Staring at the yellowish mark, Ron grit his teeth and let the anger possess him. The bastard had hither. His brain screamed. If Ron thought he had seen red before, it was nothing compared to now. Bright sparks exploded between synapses in his mind. Incredible anger filled his every vein. Blind fury. I’m really, really going to murder that bleeding wanker, Ron thought. Mc-Fucking-Laggen is going to die.
Feeling the air crackle around him, Hermione quickly answered. “No,” she said breathlessly, shaking her head and biting her bottom lip. “I was upset… a-and I knocked into the statue of the knight in the west corridor on the fifth floor.” She prodded the spot carefully with her fingertips. She hadn’t realized it had bruised. “It’s made of solid limestone,” she added as way of explanation.
Ron sucked in a relieved breath and flopped ungracefully beside her on his bed. The mattress sagged under his added weight, tipping her smaller frame towards him sluggishly. They sat there in silence, their shoulders practically touching. It was the closest they had been to each other in weeks. Hermione stole a side-long glance at him as he took a few more deep breaths. His skin was flushed, so red that it nearly matched his hair, and heat seemed to be rolling off of his body in droves. They had got into rows before, massive rows, and Ginny had mentioned that Ron had a temper, but she had never seen him that angry before.
“Ron,” she whispered.
His eyes glanced at her before moving down to the space of the bed between them. “You don’t hit women,” he mumbled, transfixed.
Hermione was startled to see that the bruise, the idea that Cormac might have struck her, affected him so deeply. But, then again, if she really thought about it, it made sense. He had always been the first person to gallantly jump to her defense the second anyone called her a Mudblood. He was always so quick to stand and defend her honor. Not to mention that Ron had grown up around two of the most strong-willed, independent, and engaging women Hermione had ever met. And she knew that he had seen his father and brothers showing nothing but love, devotion, and respect for the women in their lives. The Weasleys were one of the most selfless and loving families she knew, and Hermione had a hunch that Ron had years of learning how to rightfully treat females instilled in him. She was grateful.
“I’m okay, Ron,” she said inching closer to the edge of the bed, bringing their bodies a hair away from contact. She watched as he fidgeted with his hands.
“What happened tonight, Hermione?” he asked into his lap.
She shook her head slowly. “Why do you care?”
I don’t know, he thought. There wasn’t a name, or one he was prepared to think of at least, for the intense need inside him to know what exactly McLaggen had done to her. Ron didn’t know how or why he needed to know, only that he did. “I—I’m your friend,” he stammered, “I care about you.” His words were honest, but Ron thought that they felt odd falling from his tongue. They didn’t pinpoint what he was trying to tell her… what he was feeling. Emotional range of a teaspoon, eh?
Hermione couldn’t stop her sigh as she turned away from him and once again rolled onto her side to face the window. “Just go away, Ron,” she whispered, both meaning it and not meaning it at the same time. She knew he cared for her, but what she needed to know was just how far that caring went. She was confused and conflicted. Over the years, she had come to notice that Ron always got tripped up when he thought about his words too much. She surmised it was one of the reasons why they constantly rowed. In the middle of a row, there was no time to overanalyze. There was no time to predict the other person’s reaction before you even acted. Plus, Ron was just so responsive during a row. It was something amazing to watch, really.
During the few times when they weren’t at the pentacle point in an argument, Hermione liked to think that she could read what he couldn’t explain in his eyes. Big, ocean blue eyes that seemed directly connected to every statement, thought, question, and emotion that filtered through his brain. She thought… she had hoped that she hadn’t misread the meaning in them tonight, and for once, she just wanted him to say what he truly felt so that she could be sure. Unwanted tears started to leak from the corners of her eyes. Her last misinterpretation led to her asking him to Slughorn’s Christmas party only to later witness Lavender Brown claiming his lips with her own.
Hermione heard the catch in Ron’s breath and knew that he had noticed her crying. She had learned enough from the thankfully short-lived Harry and Cho fiasco to know that blokes got nervous when birds cried. She knew that Ron would be no different. She remembered that once long ago during their fourth year when he and Harry weren’t on speaking terms, they had passed a little blonde first year with tears running down her face who was being poorly comforted by another little boy. Ron had then confessed that when Ginny used to cry all throughout the night because of flashbacks from the Riddle diary, it had terrified him. But even though she knew that her tears unsettled him, Hermione couldn’t bring herself to care.
She really didn’t mean to punish him for his confusion. After all, right now her feelings were a tangled knot rooted in the pit of her stomach. His concerned voice was pulling her in one direction while the image of him and Lavender twisted together like some obscure four-armed, four-legged, two-tongued sea creature pulled her in another. Her mind seemed to be sprouting off with a million different thoughts, none with any real direction. It unnerved her that she couldn’t focus on anything concrete. It made the tears leak faster.
Ron’s gaze followed Hermione as she twisted away from him. He resisted the urge to punch himself and instead ran a hand through his hair. Where the fuck was his so-called Gryffindor courage? Did he even have any? Godric would have been ashamed. His heart clenched, and he swallowed the lump in his throat when he noticed the slight shuddering of her body. She was crying, and it was all his fault. Forget hitting himself, Ron wanted to kick himself in the arse. Once again he had managed to bugger things up without quite realizing how. Why did he care, that’s what she had wanted to know. His hand hovered over her shoulder, poised to tell her something meaningful. He quickly withdrew it.
It was just his luck that Hermione was talking to him, really talking to him directly, in the first time in forever and he managed to fuck it up so quickly. But, what exactly was he supposed to say? That he was an overprotective git? That he cared because the thought of McLaggen touching her made him physically ill? That the thought of that wanker kiss—no. Ron shook his head. That thought, that image was not something he could bear. It had cut him deeply enough the first time to learn that Vicky had had that privilege. The blazing in his stomach, which suspiciously felt like the licking of green flames that were jealousy and betrayal, was much greater than he envisioned when Ginny had so effortlessly told him Hermione had snogged Krum. It scared him a bit that the idea of them being more than simple pen pals, and that Hermione had kept it a secret from him, affected him so much. Stop, Ron commanded suddenly to himself, knowing that this line of thinking would only end badly. This isn’t about you. It’s about her.
Hermione felt the shift in the bed as his weight lifted off of it. Her hand fisted in the sheets to resist looking over her shoulder to see if he was leaving her. She buried her head further into his pillow in hopes that it would soak up her tears. After a moment, she heard the hollow pang as he brushed past one of the four posters and the faint pop of the joints of his knees as he crouched down in front of her.
She felt like screaming. She wanted that nervous, remorseful crack in his voice to go away so that she could be sad and disappointed with him in peace. Hermione kept her eyes shut to avoid what she knew would be a deep blue pleading gaze. He infuriated her so much sometimes. How dare he ask about my night when he was the one snogging Lavender? she fumed, letting her anger take over. She was sick of being hurt and sad when he was off gallivanting with the biggest flirt in Hogwarts.
She had known it was going to be hard enough when Ron inevitably got a girlfriend, but Hermione wished she knew why on God’s created and Merlin’s magically enhanced green earth had he chosen her high maintenance roommate. Weren’t there tons of other pretty and perky girls who fawned over him that didn’t live on the sixth floor of Gryffindor tower? In her mind, she could already envision Lavender’s boasting recount of how her night went under mistletoe. Hermione bit the inside of her cheek to keep from sobbing.
For the past year, Hermione felt that she and Ron had been propelling themselves to an indefinable something that went beyond the realms of solely friendship. She had taken the leap, had gathered her courage to step out on the ledge to ask him out only to feel her body crash into the jagged rocks below at the sight of Ron and Lavender together. It felt like she had been stabbed in the heart with a dull knife when she had walked in to see them occupying the same chair after Gryffindor won the match. Even though Hermione considered herself to be modern feminist, it had gone against her inner romantic to be the one to ask him out in the first place. She had been waiting for him, for her blinding moment of clarity that explained all those feelings nervously inhabiting her body that came the night of the Yule Ball when she had screamed at him to ask her first next time. She only had considered doing the asking this time because it would have been impossible for Ron to ask her to accompany him to a party that he would be a guest at. So, she had stuck herself out there, let the whole school – or at least anyone listening in to their conversation in Herbology – know that she fancied Ron Weasley, and all she had now was the burn marks to show for it.
“Please don’t cry,” Ron said, and she cracked open her tear-filled eyes to see his hand nearly shaking as his fingers reached out to sweep away an errant curl from her face. A part of her was still so mad that she wanted to shake his hand away, but another part could only revel in the feel of it. “I just wanted… I mean… I didn’t mean to—” He took a deep breath. “Please don’t cry, Hermione. I’ll leave you alone if you want me to, but you have to promise me that nothing happened. I can only go if you promise me that McLaggen didn’t hurt you.” His palm felt cool against her flushed face as the pad of his thumb wiped away her tears. “Just please don’t cry,” he whispered again, causing the last of her barriers to crumble.
He wasn’t supposed to be there. He wasn’t supposed to be looking at her so utterly concerned. He wasn’t supposed to be her protector. He wasn’t supposed to be drying the tears that he hadn’t caused. He wasn’t supposed to be drying the ones that he had.