It was something Sirius had said in a letter, that friends watched each others' backs, defended each other. At the time, Ron and Harry hadn't been speaking, so Harry had been forced to apply the thought only to Hermione, quietly deciding that he'd remember how she was helping him and return the favor somehow.
Watching Ron tear into her over Krumm at the Yule Ball, the words echoed in his head.
"What happened," said Ron, "trying to get Vicky to join spew, were you?"
"No, I wasn't! If you really want to know, he — he said he'd been coming up to the library every day to try and talk to me, but he hadn't been able to pluck up the courage!"
Hermione said that very quickly, and blushed so deeply that she was the same color as Parvati's robes.
"Yeah, well, that's his story," said Ron nastily.
"And what's the supposed to mean?"
"Obvious, isn't it? He's Karkaroff's student, isn't he? He knows who you hang around with… He's just trying to get closer to Harry — get inside information on him — or get near enough to jinx him —"
Hermione looked as though Ron had slapped her, and Harry found his voice.
"Ron," Harry said quietly. "I haven't got a problem with Hermione coming with Krumm." Though in truth, what Ron had just said sounded reasonable to him.
Hermione said, "For your information, he hasn't asked me on single thing about Harry, not one —"
Ron changed tack at the speed of light. "Then he's hoping you'll help him figure out what his egg means! I suppose you've been putting your heads together during those cozy little library sessions —"
"I'd never help him work out the egg," said Hermione, outraged. "Never. How could you say something like that — I want Harry to win the tournament, Harry knows that, don't you, Harry?"
In truth, Harry had wondered a little, when he'd seen her with Krumm, and now felt horribly guilty for it.
"You've got a funny way of showing it," sneered Ron.
The image of Neville Longbottom came unbidden to Harry's mind. How Neville had stood up to the three of them in first year, and Dumbledore had said that it took a great deal of courage to stand up to your friends. And Harry, well, he could stand up to an enemy, a dragon, a monster. But it seemed he didn't have what it took to stand up to a friend.
Before Harry knew what he was doing, he had an arm around Ron's shoulders and was dragging the other boy away.
"What, Harry? Let me go!"
Harry said, "Let's go outside."
"You need to clear your head. You can't say all that to her." Harry was frightened as he said that. He was very glad that he and Ron were talking again, and hated the idea that this might throw them back apart.
Ron's brow furrowed, his face flushed further, but in the end he only grunted and let Harry lead him into the garden.
It was dark, the air was cool, and Harry heard only a few others about. He took a deep breath, feeling, in the best way possible, 11. He'd stood up to Ron about Hermione once before, hadn't he, and it turned out great, hadn't it? Been maybe the best choice of his whole life, because otherwise Hermione would've been smeared across the walls of the loo.
Turning about to face Ron, Harry said, "I think you'd better apologize to her."
Harry expected Ron to rage, to shout, to call the resumption of their friendship off, but he didn't do any of that.
Ron only said, bitterly, "She shouldn't have been going with Krumm."
"And why not? It's just a dance. We were a having a miserable time of it, and she had a great one. Krumm seems like a decent sort, and I trust Hermione, you know that."
"What's that supposed to mean?" said Ron, hotly.
"Nothing." It wasn't anything about Ron. "But you were out of line, Ron, and you know it. I mean, I reckon we were both horrible tonight. I was so busy feeling awkward, mooning over Cho, and eavesdropping on Percy and Bagman that I was probably a miserable date for Parvati, but what you were saying to Hermione… you just have to apologize to her, that's all. Look, I'll apologize to Parvati too."
Harry didn't think his neglecting Parvati was anywhere near close to what Ron had been saying to Hermione, but if Harry apologizing too would help Ron feel less attacked, Harry would do it.
And Ron backed down. He got redder and redder, but the redness peaked and fell, and he swallowed and looked at his feet.
Harry almost couldn't believe how easy that had been, but he patted his friend's shoulder, and they wandered the garden together, overhearing eye-opening conversations between Karkaroff and Snape, and between Hagrid and Madam Maxine.
It was when they had passed back through the Great Hall and were starting up the stairs that Cedric called Harry aside. While Ron went up to Gryffindor tower, Cedric gave Harry strange advice about his egg, which left Harry blinking at the other boy, wondering if Cedric were trying to play him for a fool.
When Harry finally entered the common room, Hermione, still in her beautiful ball robes, was imperiously ignoring Ron, who was visibly fuming. But she smiled when she saw Harry, and pulled him away into the relative privacy of a corner.
"Thank you for sticking up for me," she said.
"Anytime," Harry said. "Er, has Ron apologized yet?"
"No," said Hermione. "He told me that you told him that he ought to, but he wanted me to know that he was right to be suspicious."
"Oh. Well, maybe tomorrow?" Ron just needed a bit of time, hopefully. "Other than that, did you have a good time?"
"I did," she said, eyes turning dreamy. "Viktor was a perfect gentleman."
"Good," said Harry.
When Harry went to bed, he was as content as he'd been since before his name had come out of the goblet.
Ron's diatribe at Hermione is not Ron-bashing. It's pretty much straight canon, and not all of it. I'd forgotten just how mean he was to her that night. That Harry didn't call him out on it because he's afraid Ron might stop speaking to him again is also straight canon, and it makes me doubt him as a hero whose superpower is love, friendship and bravery.
This chapter successfully completes it themes and achieves resolution. It is complete on its own merits. You could imagine these differences reverberating however you like. Does the trio end up uncovering the plot, preventing Voldemort's resurrection? No? Does it permanently shift the boundaries of their relationship, Harry having learned to be a slightly better friend, Hermione believing a little more that her friends care for her, and Ron taking a long hard look at his tendency to be mean? Does Harry stop using Ron to enable his own worst tendencies and start leading Ron instead? No? Maybe.
Or maybe, a boy stood up to his friend to defend his other best friend, and it was the right thing to do, and that's enough.
However, I'm chasing outcomes a little. This is a two-shot. The next chapter should be forthcoming.
Yes, yes, I know, I should be updating all things. But actually, I've been working on 10s of thousands of words of new things...