Actually Love

A/N: Happy Holidays! This fic was written for adenei as part of the Romione Discord Secret Santa Exchange 2022. I hope you enjoy some Christmas angst/fluff in the form of this 6th year AU!

Thanks to accio for looking this over!

Part 1

"Ron, look out!"

Harry's call reached Ron's ear a split second too late, and the bludger crashed into his right shoulder. A sickening crack rippled through the air as searing pain shot down Ron's arm, his fingers going numb. The impact caused him to slip sideways off his Cleansweep, and any attempt to grab the handle again was useless given his surely broken arm. He clung to the tip of the broom with his one functioning hand as it plummeted toward the ground. There was no way to slow it down. The crash was inevitable.

As soon as he hit the ground, his legs gave way beneath him and he crumpled into a heap. The back of his head smacked onto an exposed patch of dirt and caused an instant headache. Adding insult to injury, his broomstick hit him in the face before tipping uselessly into the grass. He lay sprawled out on the pitch, unable to move, mentally inventorying his injuries and reminding himself to breathe.

"Ron!" Harry called as he zoomed down to the ground. "Ron, are you okay?"

"Ugh…I think so? Can't feel my arm, though."

After taking a look at Ron's arm, Harry grimaced and immediately waved down the other members of the team, who swooped to the ground.

"That doesn't look good, Ron. We'll have to get you to the infirmary right away," Harry said.

Ron's heart sank. It was the team's last practice before their big match against Slytherin, and while Madam Pomfrey was known to work quickly, he suspected she wouldn't be able to completely heal him in time for him to play. Which could only mean…

"McLaggen," Ron stated as his stomach did a flip.

"What?" Harry asked.

"McLaggen. You'll have to play McLaggen at keeper now. Harry, I'm sorry, I should've been watchi-"

"Shut up, Ron, don't worry about that now. Let's just deal with your arm and figure out the rest later. Come on."

Throwing Ron's good arm over his shoulder, Harry led his friend back up the path to the school, walking slowly to make sure Ron made it without falling over. Pain was ripping through Ron's legs with each step, convincing him that his injuries extended beyond his upper extremity. His feet were dragging through the brittle leaves scattered across the lawn, crumbling under his trainers against the yellowing grass. A brisk November breeze swept across the campus, sending a chill through Ron's body as they approached the front door of the castle. Harry led him around a melting pile of snow, a remnant of the season's first storm the previous week, and back into the warm foyer. It was dusk, and the candles had just been lit in the entrance hall, casting dancing shadows along the corridors as they moved slowly towards the hospital wing. Once they passed through the tall wooden double doors of the infirmary, Madam Pomfrey rushed over and helped Harry lay Ron down in the bed closest to the door.

"Broken arm, dislocated shoulder, two sprained ankles, broken nose, and a severe concussion. Mr Weasley, when you have an accident, you certainly get your money's worth."

Harry stifled a laugh, the serious expression returning to his face quickly.

"Can you fix me up by tomorrow?" Ron pleaded, his head still spinning even though he was lying still. "I've got to play, it's a big, uhh…a really important…"

"Match?" Harry offered.

"Right, a really important match. Against…ugh, those guys…"

"Slytherin?" came Harry's voice again.

"Yeah, that foul lot."

"I'm sorry, Mr Weasley," Madam Pomfrey replied. "Broken bones and sprained joints are one thing, but there's only so much that magic can do for an injured brain, and your brain is very clearly injured. No, I'm afraid you won't be ready by tomorrow. In fact, I want you to rest as much as possible. Once your bones are healed, you may return to your dormitory this evening, but if you so much as move a muscle out of bed for the next day or two, I'll have you right back here under my close supervision. Are we clear?"

He sighed, his shoulders slumping down the stack of pillows behind him as his face fell. "We're clear."

"Good. Then let's get started."

The healing process took four painful hours, several pain potions, and two full bottles of Skele-Gro. Once it was complete, Harry helped Ron stumble back to Gryffindor Tower as Ron clutched his aching and bubbling stomach. He realized that he'd skipped dinner for the first time in years, but food was the last thing on his mind. By the time he returned, the Common Room was empty; everyone was getting a good night's sleep before the big match. He inched up the stairs to his dormitory at a snail's pace before crawling into bed and pulling his curtains shut as his best friend did the same. Even though he was exhausted, he couldn't fall asleep for over an hour, constantly thinking about how he'd let down his teammates.

After a restless night of tossing, turning, and persistent headaches, Ron bade farewell to Harry when his friend went down for breakfast before falling back asleep. An hour or so later, he awoke to a plate of full English and a "get well soon" note from Dobby. He chuckled and tentatively picked at the food, only proceeding to wolf it down once he found his stomach agreed with the meal. At five minutes to ten, he pulled out an Extendable Ear that he'd nicked from Fred and dropped it out the tower window. When he angled it just right, he could hear Luna's voice floating through the speakers from the Quidditch pitch.

Over the next forty-five minutes, he listened to her rambling commentary, wincing every time she got around to announcing that Slytherin had scored another couple of goals. From the sound of it, McLaggen was causing organizational chaos by arguing with Harry over every element of strategy, and he ended up letting in goal after goal as a result. By the time Harry caught the Snitch, Gryffindor was lucky to scrape the win, the final score 230-210.

Even imagining the miserable sneer on Malfoy's face didn't make him feel any better. They'd almost lost to Slytherin, and it was all his fault.

Part 2

As she climbed back up the hill towards the castle, Hermione picked her way through the crowd, eager to see Ron. Since Harry hadn't returned to the Common Room until Ron's healing had been complete, she'd had no idea that he'd been injured until breakfast the following morning. Her first instinct had been to rush up and check on him, but Harry had informed her that he had already gone back to sleep. Instead, she had followed the throng of students down to the Quidditch pitch where the match had barely held her attention and mercifully ended in less than an hour. Everyone else in Gryffindor was in a celebratory mood, but all she could think about was getting back up to the sixth-year boy's dormitory.

She was the first one to arrive back at Gryffindor Tower and hurriedly gave the password before crawling in and rushing up the stairs. As soon as she rounded the corner and saw Ron staring up at his ceiling with a miserable look on his face, she knew that cheering him up would be a challenge; he always tended to blame himself in those types of situations.

"Knock, knock," she called, stepping across the hardwood floor to the side of his four-poster.

He glanced at her before refocusing on the canopy over his bed and rubbing his eyes, heaving a great sigh as he sat up against the headboard. "Hey."

"I'm so sorry, Ron, I would've come sooner if I'd known you'd been hurt," she continued, trying to ignore the heat rising in her cheeks as she sat down on the edge of his mattress. "How are you feeling?"


"Oh no, shall I get Madam Pomfrey?"

"No, not like that," he said, flipping onto his side to face her, a frown still covering his face. "I actually feel fine. I just…I let everyone down."

"What do you mean? Perhaps you haven't heard yet, but Gryffindor's won!"

"No, I heard," he replied, holding up the Extendable Ear.

Normally she would chastise him for possession of his older brothers' items, but it wasn't the time or place. Instead, she laughed and patted him on the arm. "Then why are you so upset? All's well that ends well, no?"

His voice rose and his face grew animated as he sat up straighter. "Why? Because I wasn't there! Bloody McLaggen took my spot and, now that they've won, who knows if I'll get it back? That stupid bludger ruined everything when it hit me in the shoulder yesterday!"

"Ron, don't be ridiculous and don't blame yourself. None of this was your fault, it was all just a poorly timed accident. Besides, you know Harry wouldn't replace you."

"First of all, it was my fault. I should've noticed that bludger coming at me; any good keeper would have. And secondly, no, I don't know that Harry wouldn't replace me! If he does what's right for the team, he'll go with the person that gives them the best chance of winning. And they just won the biggest game of the year with McLaggen."

"They won in spite of him! He was awful!"

"He was good enough! They won, didn't they?"

Hermione took a deep breath, trying to maintain her calm. It wouldn't serve anyone if she lost her temper as well, so as difficult as it was, she reined in her frustration and made sure she was speaking in a calming tone. "Look, I may not know as much about Quidditch as you or Harry, but even I could tell that Cormac was a disaster. The rest of the team was clearly annoyed with him as well. He was arguing with everyone else on the pitch and trying to play their positions for them. At one point, he was streaking up the field with the Quaffle, trying to score and ignoring the other chasers. If I could tell how wrong it was, everyone else probably could too, especially Harry. I'm sure your position is safe."

Rolling onto his back, Ron huffed, but a wisp of a smile played across his face. "You think so?"

"Of course," she answered, beaming back at him. A zap of electricity shot up her arm when she placed her hand on his shoulder. "He doesn't hold a candle to you."

A faint snicker escaped his lips as her hand trailed down his arm, fingernails scraping gently over his skin until she reached his hand. She met his gaze as she gave it a squeeze before letting go.

Ron cleared his throat and sat back up, his ears turning bright red as he broke eye contact. "Erm, thanks. I, uhh, appreciate that."

"Of course. Now tell me, are you sure you're feeling alright?"

"I still have a bit of a headache, but otherwise I feel better, yeah."

"That's excellent. Sounds like you'll be in top shape for our date-"

Hermione froze. For a moment, she thought that her heart had frozen as well, although the reassuring thud she felt in her chest a second later confirmed that her anxiety had just caused it to skip a beat. She hadn't meant for the "d-word" to pop out of her mouth like that. For all she knew, he didn't even think it was a, well, "d-word". That's how she'd been thinking of it, of course, but she didn't want to assume anything on his behalf.

"Right, I'm sure I'll be fine by then," he offered with a shy grin. His hands were shaking as he continued. "Actually, I'm glad you mentioned that. I don't know if we ever really…confirmed those plans."

"I'm sorry?"

He was white as his bedsheets, his eyes darting all over the room. "Well, you mentioned the party and said you were going to ask me, but then we never really discussed it again. So, I guess I wasn't really sure…"

"Oh," she replied, a pang of disappointment hitting her squarely in the chest. "Right, well, no pressure or anything. If you don't want to, it's okay, I promise, I won't-"

"No!" Ron exclaimed before shrinking back under his blanket. "I mean, I do want to. If, you know, erm, if you do."

Excitement shot back through her body, and she had to restrain herself from showing her true feelings too much.

Best to play it as cool as possible.

"I do. Th-that sounds lovely," she said.

"Okay then, it's a plan."

The sound of trainers running up the stairs pulled Hermione back to reality, and when she turned to the dormitory entrance, Harry was there, panting at the top of the staircase.

"Hey, Ron, did you hear?" Harry spat, his hair even more unruly than ever. "We won!"

"Yeah, I did," Ron responded. "Congratulations, mate."

"You want to come downstairs? There's a celebration in the Common Room, plenty of Butterbeer. You're part of the team, you should be there."

Ron's eyes narrowed as he surveyed his friend, his brow furrowed in thought. After several seconds, he turned back to Hermione and smiled. "Nah, I'm okay where I am."

Trying to hold back her emotions was a fool's errand, and she smiled back at him as a herd of centaurs rampaged through her stomach.

"You're sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. Besides, Madam Pomfrey's orders, right?"

Harry stared back at him with a skeptical look, but nonetheless shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the doorway. "Okay, whatever you like. Oh, but just so you know, Lavender was looking for you."

Hermione's brain stopped and her ears pricked up to listen.

"Lavender? Lavender Brown?" Ron asked.

"How many Lavenders do you know?" Harry quipped back.

"Hmm, strange. Okay, well I'll talk to her later."

"Fair enough. Glad you're doing better."

As Harry bounded back down the staircase to his team's victory party, Hermione sat on Ron's bed, uncertainty hovering over her. Ron seemed just as confused as she was that Lavender Brown was looking for him, which made her feel better. But still, they never talked; what could it be about?

"You know, you don't have to stay here," Ron said, snapping her out of her trance. "If you'd rather be at the party, I wouldn't blame you."

"Nonsense, I wanted to see you. Besides, you know I'm not as keen on Quidditch as the rest of our housemates."

"Okay, as long as you're sure. In that case, do you want to play chess or something?"

"Why?" she asked. "You know you'll win, what's the point?"

"Because…winning is fun?"

She rolled her eyes at him and bit her lip hard, trying to subdue the grin that was threatening to break out of her. "Fine," she replied, pushing his feet aside and sitting cross-legged at the end of his bed. "Set it up."

Part 3

Three days later, Ron was back on his feet again, suffering through the slog that was double Advanced Potions. After vanishing his suspiciously murky attempt at a Calming Draught from his cauldron, he grabbed his bag and followed Harry out of the classroom. Before he left, he glanced back and shot a quick smile at Hermione, who was waiting to speak with Professor Slughorn. Her cheeks reddened as she grinned back, sending his head into a spin.

How does she do that to me every time?

The shy smiles and blushes had been flowing between them for the past several days since they'd talked about the Slug Club Christmas event. Ron had never been so excited about a party in his life. He'd even gone so far as to try on the new dress robes that Fred and George had bought him one evening when the rest of his dorm mates were out of their shared room, making sure they looked perfect for the big day. Even though he tried to tamp down his expectations, he couldn't help but wonder what might happen if the night went well. Perhaps his dreams would finally come true and he could kiss her!

But first, he'd have to make it through another month of classes, studying, and homework. He thought about getting a start on his Defense Against the Dark Arts essay, but the lure of early lunch was too strong to bear. Instead, he and Harry followed their noses toward the Great Hall. Homework could wait.

"Ron! Ron, slow down!" a voice called out from behind him.

When he turned around, he saw Lavender Brown waving at him frantically, trying to push her way through the crowd of students leaving the classroom to catch up with him.

Harry stared at him with one eyebrow quirked, and Ron shrugged back at him.

"No idea," he said, slowing down to allow Lavender to catch up.

"I was hoping to talk with you. Can we, erm, perhaps duck in here?" she asked, gesturing towards an empty classroom.

As his friend took off, Ron stepped inside, his arms folded across his chest as his blonde housemate bounded in after him.

"I'm so glad I found you, I've been meaning to catch up with you," she said, batting her eyelashes at him.

"Oh, okay. I mean, I live right in the same tower as you, but…erm, never mind, what's up?"

"I've been watching you play."

"W-Watching me?" he stuttered, retreating into the classroom.

She giggled, a saccharine smile on her face as she stalked toward him. "Yes, you! You're a brilliant keeper, you know. It's a miracle the team did anything right without you there."

"Oh, well, thanks. I'm just glad they won though. Can't stand losing to Slytherin, right?" His palms were sweating, and no amount of wiping them on his robes was making a difference.

"I bet you wouldn't have even let in one goal if you'd been there. Oh, silly me! I forgot to ask, how are you feeling?" she said, darting forward and placing her palm against his forehead.

"I'm fine, good as new."

Lavender jumped up and down and clapped her hands frantically, beaming at him with sparkling white teeth. "I'm so glad! Wouldn't want to surprise you so soon after your injury if you weren't feeling up for it."

Now thoroughly confused, Ron threw his hands in the air and squinted at her. "I'm sorry? Surprise me?"

"Don't play dumb, Ron," she said in a suddenly sultry tone, a mischievous expression on her face. "I know you can feel it too."

"Feel what?"

Without another word, she lunged at him, wrapping her arms around his neck and smashing her lips into his. It took less than a second for her tongue to press against his teeth, trying to find a way into his mouth before snaking through and wrestling with his. At first, he was in shock, practically unable to move. After a few seconds though, Ron placed his hands on her waist and pushed away from her. He jumped backward, disentangling himself from her grasp as quickly as possible.

"Are you mental?" he asked. "Where did that come from?!"

"What do you mean? I'm just being spontaneous. Come back here."

He took several steps further back, holding out his arms in front of him. "No! Look, I'm sorry if I've given you the wrong impression or something, but I'm not really interested."

"Oh," Lavender whined, her face dropping. "But I've been coming and watching you practice every week! I'm your biggest fan!"

"You have?"

"Ron!" she yelled, her tone growing more furious. "Yes, how could you not have noticed me?"

"I-I'm sorry, I guess I was just…focused on the game."

Her facial expression softened, and the smile returned. "Oh, of course! I'm sorry, of course, you were focusing, how silly of me. But still, now that I've, erm, made my intentions clear, what do you think?"

"I don't know what you want me to say here. I'm just not interested. Especially when you attack me out of nowhere."

"Some people would find it romantic!" she huffed, poking him in the chest before spinning on her heel and storming out of the room.

For a moment, Ron stood dumbfounded in the classroom. That wasn't exactly how he'd pictured his first kiss, and certainly not the person he'd hoped to share it with. More than anything, he couldn't imagine how she could've assumed that he was interested. He looked both ways before emerging from the classroom, walking slowly down the hall towards lunch as the scenario circled through his mind over and over again.

What the fuck was that all about?

Part 4

"Thanks, Professor, that makes sense," Hermione said as she packed her materials.

"All the best, Miss Granger," Professor Slughorn said. "And I'm very much looking forward to the little Christmas soiree. I hope you're still able to make it."

"I'll be there. See you next class!"

"Take care."

Hermione hurried down the hall, hoping to catch up with her friends for lunch before their next class. Thoughts of the upcoming party kept floating through her head, and she enjoyed imagining the scenarios of what might happen when she and Ron were there. She also kept thinking about what might happen afterward, which made her whole body heat up.

As she jogged down the Potions hallway, her eyes were drawn to a flash of movement in an adjoining classroom. She only stopped for a moment, but what she saw led to a sense of panic seizing up in her chest.

Two students were in the middle of a passionate snog, and much to Hermione's disappointment and horror, their identities were all too obvious. His lanky frame and ginger fringe, her bouncy blonde hair and theatrical movements. Ron's arms were on Lavender's waist as their lips crashed into each other. For her part, Lavender was trying her best to wrap herself completely around him as she pulled his head closer to hers.

Hermione had seen enough. She turned and ran down the hall, suppressing the bile rising in her throat and forcing herself to breathe against her suddenly dry throat. Heart hammering in her chest, she sprinted as fast as she could through the crowd of students headed for the Great Hall, not even stopping when Harry tried to get her attention as she pushed past him. Her legs were burning with pain, but she kept running, taking the stairs three at a time in an attempt to get to Gryffindor Tower as fast as possible. She screamed the password at the Fat Lady and frightened a group of second-year students as she barreled through the portrait hole when it swung open.

As she bolted up the stairs toward the bedroom, a flash of red hair swung around from the sofa.


But she didn't stop, continuing to run up the spiral staircase as the tears poured down her cheeks. She tried to stifle her sobs as she went, but they were piercing and echoed throughout the entire dormitory.

"Hermione, wait!" the voice called out from below her.

Finally making it to her room, she threw herself onto her four-poster and buried her face in the pillow, weeping into the soft maroon linen. Behind her, she heard footsteps slowing down as they came closer to her bed. She suspected she knew who it was, but she wasn't sure she could face anyone at the moment.

"Hermione, are you okay?" Ginny asked in a soft tone of voice.

Hermione was motionless, trying to steady her breathing as she shielded her face from her friend. "I'm f-fine."

"Erm, you're clearly not. Come on, you can tell me. What's going on?"

Sitting up and wiping the streaked tears away from her eyes, she took one last deep breath before turning around to face the youngest Weasley.

"It's nothing, I promise. I'm just…feeling a bit foolish."

"You're many things, Hermione, but foolish has never been one of them."

"Well, then there's a first time for everything."

Ginny came closer, sitting on the edge of the mattress, her eyes probing Hermione's face for clues. "I very much doubt that."

"I just…I thought I knew someone. Turns out I was as wrong as can be."

"This is about my brother, isn't it?"

Genuine shock came over Hermione as her jaw dropped open. "How do you-?"

"Oh please, you two are about as subtle as a hippogriff ordering a pint at the Leaky. So what's the git done now?"

"Nothing," Hermione replied after quickly judging Ginny to be a worthy confidant. "Honestly, he really hasn't done anything wrong, per se."


"But, well, I thought we had an…arrangement of sorts. You know we were planning on going to the Slug Club party together, right?"

"Of course, he can't stop mentioning it. He tries to slip it into conversation casually, but subtlety is not his strong suit."

"Right. Well, anyway, I suppose I assumed that that meant we were…well, perhaps not together, but at least potentially moving in that direction."

"Which is what you would want?"

"Very much so," Hermione replied, trying to will away the blush rising in her cheeks.

"Okay, well I suspect that's what he wants as well," Ginny replied, her eyebrows cocked in confusion. "So what's the problem?"

"I thought that was what he wanted," Hermione answered, trying to steady her emotions, "but if that was the case, why did I just see him snogging Lavender Brown after Potions?"

The dam burst open, and she broke down again, hiding her splotchy face in her hands. Ginny remained silent, placing a comforting hand on the older girl's shoulder.

After several moments had passed, Hermione sniffed and wiped her eyes again before sighing. "I should've known he wasn't actually interested. I mean, how can I compare to Lavender Brown? What do I have that she doesn't?"

"A brain?" Ginny posited.

Hermione chuckled. "That's cruel."

"Okay, okay, fine. But don't do that to yourself, Hermione. She isn't fit to hold your wand."

"Well, I appreciate that, but unfortunately it's not your opinion that matters here. And Ron has made his perfectly clear."

"You're absolutely sure it was him?" Ginny asked. "I mean, I know he can be a prat, but I wouldn't have thought he was that stupid."

"Oh, it was definitely him."

"Fucking prat."

"It's fine. I'm sorry I dragged you into this, Ginny," Hermione said. "Do me a favor? Just don't mention to him that we talked. I'll…I'll figure it out on my own."

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure."

"Want me to hurl a Bat-Bogey Hex at him during lunch one day?"

"No, thank you, though," Hermione replied with a watery smile.

"Okay, well the offer's on the table. Can I interest you in lunch? I was just heading down."

"I think I'm just going to gather my thoughts a bit before my next class. Besides, I seem to have lost my appetite."

"Alright. Well, I'm really sorry, Hermione," Ginny said, patting Hermione on the arm as she stood up. "And, honestly, it's his loss."

Hermione gave her friend a quick nod before dropping her head again, focusing on the piece of lint she was attempting to remove from her blanket. Once Ginny had turned the corner and started down the stairs, Hermione stood up from her bed and padded over to her trunk. She knelt down and picked up a rectangular package that had been lying on top of a stack of jumpers. The wrapping around the package was a horrid shade of orange, but it had been chosen with one particular person in mind, and he would've loved it. In the span of the last fifteen minutes, though, all of that had been rendered moot.

Digging through the trunk, Hermione set her possessions aside until she found several other Christmas presents already wrapped and lying at the bottom of the chest. Shoving the orange parcel under all of them, she piled the clothing back on top of everything and slammed the lid shut again.

Won't be needing that any longer.

Part 5

"Are we done, Harry?" Ron begged, standing at the exit to the Quidditch changing rooms and tapping his foot impatiently.

"Yes, we're done," Harry announced to his six teammates. "Great work, everyone."

As soon as his friend dismissed them, Ron dashed back up to the castle as fast as he could. Practice had run late, and he was eager to see if he could catch Hermione before she went to sleep for the night. Something had seemed off about her in their afternoon classes that day, like she was mad at him for some reason. The friendly flirting was replaced by cold stares, that was if she bothered to pay him any attention at all.

But he knew her well enough to understand that sometimes she would just get stressed about school or Harry or girl things and wouldn't be able to concentrate on anything else. He couldn't think of anything that had happened to make her that upset, but he was known to miss things. Or perhaps she only got 99% on an assignment.

It wouldn't do to dwell on any of that now, though, and he put his concern from his mind as he stepped through the portrait hole. He was ecstatic to find her still studying at the table by the window. A lopsided grin spread across his face as he approached her.

"Hey," he said as he took a seat across from her. "I was hoping you'd still be awake."

"Mmm," Hermione replied, not looking up from her work.

"What are you working on?"

"Defense Against the Dark Arts essay. It's due in five days, so I suspect you haven't even gotten a start on it yet, have you?"

"I will," he answered, quirking an eyebrow at her. What's going on with her?

The silence stretched on for almost a minute, the sound of Hermione's quill scratching against the parchment the only noise in the Common Room.

"Hey, Hermione?" he asked. "Is everything okay?"

Her lips were set in a thin line as she glanced up at him with emotionless eyes. "Of course. As I said, I'm just trying to get this essay done. I want to have it out of the way because I have another long essay to write for Ancient Runes before the weekend."

"Right, yeah, that makes sense. Well, maybe I could get a start on my essay, too. Would it be okay if I joined you?"

"Seems to me you'll do whatever you like regardless of other people's wishes, so by all means."

"O…kay, I'll be right back then."

Ron traipsed over to the staircase and dragged himself up to his room. Trying to put the pieces together proved difficult as he racked his brain trying to think about what she could be angry about. The fact that she was being cold to him made him particularly worried, but he hadn't done anything wrong lately. Unless…

She wouldn't have seen…earlier today, after Potions? Nah, of course not. I was out of there in less than a minute.

He was still furious with Lavender for cornering him after class, although he'd be lying to say it didn't make him a little smug to know that other girls wanted him. Shaking his head to rid it of the ugly memories, he grabbed his bag and made his way back downstairs, all the while considering whether he should offer her a snack or something. But as soon as he arrived in the Common Room, he was shocked and hurt to see her packing up her work.

"Hey, I thought we were going to work on the essay together," he said as he dropped his bag on the table.

"I'm done, and I'm tired. I think I'm just going to head up to bed," Hermione replied, refusing to make eye contact with him.

"Hermione, is everything okay? You seem really upset."

She sighed, prolonging her exhale as she closed her eyes momentarily, pulling her mouth into a tight pucker. Then, with no warning, her head snapped up to face him, a sickly sweet smile plastered onto her face. She spoke in a very un-Hermione, almost too friendly tone of voice. "Everything's fine, Ron. I'm sorry, it's just been a long day and I'd like to get some rest. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Oh, okay. Well, I hope you sleep well."

With a curt nod, she spun on her heel and marched towards her dormitory.

"Wait, Hermione!" Ron called.

"What?" she growled.

"Erm, well, I just wanted to make sure…we're still on for that party, right?"

Her narrow-eyed stare was torture to him. It was as though she was taking the measure of him all over again, reevaluating their whole relationship. He braced for the worst, assuming he was about to get screamed at even worse than when he broke his mother's favorite serving platter as a child.

"Of course," she replied, her voice dripping with subdued fury.

"Right, excellent, because I'm really looking forward to it."

"I'm sure. Goodnight, Ronald."

He watched as she strode out of sight up the stairs before slumping back down in the chair, tossing his bag to the floor. There was no chance of him getting any homework done for the rest of the night. As he sat, he contemplated ways to try to make things right with Hermione, although he had no idea where to start because he had no idea what she was mad about. It consumed his thoughts for the rest of the night, even when he was brushing his teeth. By the time he crawled into bed, he was no closer to a plan of any kind. Hopefully, she would just wake up in a better mood tomorrow, but if not, he was clueless about how to proceed.

Why can't girls just say what they mean?

Part 6

The next three weeks passed in a blur of essays, homework, and studying. Christmas hols were only a couple days away, and the muscles in Hermione's head and neck were finally relaxing as she'd finished her last essay earlier in the evening. The only thing standing between her and a train ride back to her parent's house was one day of classes and the Slug Club Christmas party.

Hermione had been dreading the event ever since she'd spied Ron snogging Lavender Brown in secret. The past several weeks had been awkward, clumsy, and confusing as Ron tried to cover up his actions. He hadn't said a thing to her about it and had simply carried on as if nothing had happened. Try as she might to recapture some of the warm and fuzzy feelings that used to invade her brain any time she thought about him, her patience and respect for him were both dwindling. For his part, he had stopped making an effort altogether in the last few days, moping and barely saying a word to her any time they were in the same room.

The only person more frustrating than Ron had been Harry, who was complaining nonstop about their arguing again. Memories of her and Ron's third and fourth-year rows were apparently still fresh in everyone's mind, meaning that life for the three of them was as uncomfortable as ever.

And so she found herself without her usual study partners on the evening before the last class of the semester, instead sitting across from Neville as he desperately tried to find more things to say for his Defense Against the Dark Arts essay for Professor Snape. Fed up with Snape's constant favoritism, she had agreed to help Neville partially to be a good friend and partially to see the sneer on the professor's face when the student he bullied more than anyone turned in an immaculate essay.

"It's no use, Hermione, I'll never make it," Neville complained with a sigh, staring at the last 3 inches of blank parchment.

"Of course you will!" she replied, looking up from the Transfiguration essay she was proofreading for the third time. "You haven't even discussed the fact that Patronuses can take corporeal form or the incidental finding that they can be used for communication when needed. Even though this is an essay about Dementors, I think it's still reasonable to add."

"Ah, good thinking! I probably forgot because…well, my Patronus will never be corporeal."

"Nonsense, Neville, I'm sure you'll get there. You work harder than anyone in our," she looked around and lowered her voice, "D.A. meetings."

A small grin played across Neville's face as he started writing again. "Thanks, Hermione."

For the next ten minutes, Hermione continued to read and Neville continued to scrawl. When he set his quill down on the table and looked up at her, he was beaming. "Done!"

He passed the essay to her, and she reviewed his last few additions. "This looks great, Neville!" she exclaimed. "Snape's not going to know what hit him!"

"Thanks again for your help, Hermione! I couldn't have done it without you!"

"Happy to help!"

"Are you all packed for Christmas?" he asked as he carefully rolled up his finished scroll.

"Almost, yes. Hard to believe we're leaving in a couple days."

"I'm looking forward to it. Three weeks without classwork? Without Snape? It's one of the best times of the year."

Hermione laughed and stood up from her chair. "I couldn't agree more."

"Anything big going on this year?"

"Nothing major, no. Mum always makes a big roasted turkey, and my Aunt Susan comes with her husband and kids. What about you, any Christmas Day plans?"

As soon as the words came out of her mouth, she regretted it. Memories of Neville's sad, exasperated, embarrassed expression at St. Mungo's the previous year came rushing back to her, and she wished she could go back and just keep her mouth shut. As he threw his bag onto his shoulder, his eyes glazed over and a wistful smile appeared.

"Well, you know, same as always."

"Oh, Neville," Hermione whispered, not wanting to betray his secret in case anyone else was listening. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean…"

He waved a hand of dismissal, but a tiny sniff told her that she'd struck a particularly raw nerve. Stepping forward, she wrapped him in a hug, which he tentatively returned. With a pat on the back, she released him, stepping back with a sympathetic look on her face. "I think it's great that you visit every year."

"Yeah, it's nice. A bit melancholy, but I think they like it. It's really good for Gran, too."

"That's really great!"

Neville nodded as he moved towards his dormitory. "As I said, I'm glad that people know what they went through to fight the Dark Lord. I'm quite proud of them."

"As well you should be, they were heroes of the First War. Anyway…again, sorry for being a bit tactless. I hope you have a lovely visit with them."

"It's no big problem, honestly. Thanks again for your help, Hermione."

Poor Neville. Her chest ached for him as he walked slowly up the stairs. It couldn't be easy to live your life knowing that your parents barely remember you, and she couldn't imagine being in his position, especially around the holidays. With one last guilty peek at his back as he turned the corner, she collected the rest of her things and made her way up to bed. She had never felt more like she needed some space from Hogwarts, and the long break couldn't come soon enough.

One more day until I can finally go home and relax.

Part 7

"Do you think I should go?" Ron asked as Harry stared at the chess board, contemplating his move.

Harry glared at him, the look on his face telling Ron that above all else, he was sick of hearing about it. "For the last time, Ron, I don't really care. All I'll say is that it would be nice if you two stopped the bickering for a change."

The past several weeks had been hell. Ever since the day she'd been short with Ron in the Common Room, Hermione had seemed distant. The flirty comments and stolen glances had disappeared instantly, and she seemed more irritated by his presence than she ever had before. It was worse than the lowest points in their friendship, and to make matters worse, he had no idea why it was happening. He'd tried talking with her a couple times, but she kept insisting everything was fine. Eventually, he'd gotten sick of trying, but then they had essentially stopped speaking altogether, which just made him even more depressed. At the moment, there were less than twenty-four hours until the Slug Club Christmas party, and he had never been more sure that she was angry with him.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

"Alright, I'm going to go," Ron said, pulling himself up off the bed. "Maybe she'll still be up."

"Yeah, fine. I forfeit this game anyway. Can't figure out a move to save my life."

"Just so you know, I would've mated you in three no matter what you did."

Harry sighed. "Of course you would've."

Ron chuckled as he slipped out of their bedroom and crept down the stairs, not wanting to startle her if she was in the middle of studying. The room sounded quiet as he reached the bottom of the staircase, but as it came into view, he froze in his tracks, and his breath caught in his throat.

Hermione was standing in the middle of the floor with her arms around…was that Neville Longbottom? What the bloody hell was going on?

For a moment, his legs weren't working properly, and he remained rooted to the spot, unable to tear his eyes away from what was happening in front of him. Once his initial shock subsided and he regained control of his faculties, he turned and marched back up to his dorm room, fuming as he went. He could feel the blood pounding through his head, and his ears were ringing with anger. How could she do something like that to him? And with Neville?!

As soon as he stomped into the dormitory, Harry jumped off of his bed, his eyes wide open as he approached. "Ron, what's wrong? What happened?" he asked.

Without saying a word, Ron took three large steps towards his bed, lined up the three pillows against the headboard, and rained punches down on them as fast as he could. Guttural screams came out of his throat with no effort at all, and Harry jumped back to avoid the melee. It didn't matter how much his arms ached, Ron couldn't stop punching, fury coursing through his entire body. Once the sweat started beading on his forehead, he stopped, flopping down on his mattress and staring up at the canopy.

After a long pause, Harry finally piped back up. "Erm, would you like to talk about something, Ron?"

"Can't fucking believe it, Harry. Neville. It was fucking Neville all this time."

"Catch me up here, mate. What are we talking about?"

"She's seeing Neville!"

Harry tilted his head at Ron and scratched the back of his neck. "Uhh, she is?"

"Sure is!" Ron cried, throwing his hands in the air. "They're down there in the Common Room right now, all cozied up together."

"I'm sorry? Ron, that sounds-"

"Completely mental? I agree! I mean, sure, Neville's not a bad-looking bloke anymore, but that came out of nowhere!"

"Tell you what, let me talk to her tomorrow," Harry replied, pulling on his pyjamas. "I'll see if I can figure out what's going on."

"I've already figured it out! It was as clear as day! No wonder she's been so cold lately, she's probably trying to get me to dump her so that she can go to the party with him! She definitely doesn't want to go with me!"

"Ron…I mean, does that really sound like Hermione?"

It didn't. Of course it didn't. Hermione Granger was many things, but vindictive and calculating she wasn't. At least not to her friends. Ron closed his eyes and massaged his temples, trying to think through his conundrum. Objectively, it didn't make sense, but he had seen it all unfold in front of him.

"I don't know, mate," Ron replied with a sigh, his blood pressure finally coming back down. "Maybe just forget about it. Guess it isn't meant to be."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah, just leave it."

As Ron crawled under the covers, intent on falling asleep in his robes instead of changing, a figure appeared in the doorway.

"Hi, guys," Neville called as he strolled into the room, a wide grin on his face.

Harry was blinking rapidly, his eyes flying back and forth between Neville and Ron, who had just sat straight up in his bed. "Hey, Neville," Harry called. "Have a good night?"

"Great night!" Neville replied, dropping his bag on top of his trunk. "Things are going really well, I feel like I'm finally starting to get things right around here!"

"Is that right?" Harry asked.

Neville nodded with giddy excitement. "It is! I'm more excited for tomorrow than any day I can remember. Thank Merlin for Hermione, right? Well, of course I don't need to tell you two that, you've known how great she is for years."

All of the remaining air was squeezed from Ron's lungs, and he was powerless to move as Harry continued the conversation. "Erm, yeah, she's cool."

"More than cool, she's brilliant! Once everything's wrapped up for the semester, I can't wait to tell Gran how it went! She'll be so happy for me!"

Ron's face dropped and a dull ache intensified in his stomach. Falling backward onto his mattress, he tried to tune out the voices, each word out of Neville's mouth shoving the dagger deeper into his heart.

"Oh," Harry replied. "Well, that's great."

"Yeah, it is. Anyway, I'm off to brush my teeth. No need to stop your conversation on my account, I'm a heavy sleeper! Good night!"

As he swept out of the room with a cheerful hum, Ron could sense his best friend's gaze on him. "Now do you believe me?" he asked.

"Erm…well, it's still…I mean, who knows, right?"

Ron shook his head and threw off the covers as he stood up, walked around to the foot of his bed, and threw open his trunk. On top of a pile of old Quidditch magazines sat a small rectangular package. It was poorly wrapped in an old issue of the Daily Prophet with a bow slapped on the front. Without looking, he shoved it down as deep as it could go, setting it next to the other packages that he had already purchased as Christmas presents for his friends and family.

Won't be needing that any longer.

"Give it up, Potter," Ron replied. "It's over."

Part 8

By the time the first morning rays of sunshine peeked through the sixth-year girl's window, Hermione had already been awake for over an hour. Her racing mind had woken her early in the morning, trying to give her enough time to think through her situation for that evening and the Slug Club party. It was painful to recall her initial excitement at the thought of going to the event with Ron when she considered how drastically they'd fallen out since he'd agreed to go with her. Instead of finding herself thrilled at the possibility of something more with him, she was dreading the night.

That said, Hermione was conflicted. When she had seen him and Lavender snogging after Potions, she had assumed that it would lead to a relationship. But in the intervening weeks, she had never seen the two of them together and had never heard either of them mention the other. Ron might have had the common courtesy to keep things to himself around her, but Lavender wasn't known to have much of a filter when she gossipped with Parvati in their bedroom, so Hermione was sure she would have overheard something by now if the two of them were seeing each other.

Maybe there isn't anything going on. Or maybe there was but it's already stopped?

Deep in her heart, she knew that she'd still prefer to go to Slughorn's party with him, and she knew that she still had feelings for him. She really didn't want their fight to last forever, not when they were so close to taking the next step. Perhaps it was time to try to mend the fences a bit.

What's the worst that could happen?

After dressing and brushing her teeth, she hurried downstairs, meeting Neville as soon as she got to the Common Room.

"Morning, Neville."

"Good morning, Hermione. Thanks again for your help last night."

"Sure thing. Do you know by chance if Ron and Harry are still asleep?"

Neville looked up from his Herbology notebook and shook his head. "No, they're already down at breakfast."

"Great, thanks! See you in class!"

After crawling through the portrait hole to the other side, she dashed down to the Great Hall in record time, and her heart leapt into her throat when she saw his shaggy head of red hair in the middle of the Gryffindor table. Harry was sitting across from him, looking as though he was avoiding Ron and talking with Seamus and Dean instead. She took a deep breath, approached cautiously, and sat down next to Ron. Much to her disappointment, there was no reaction on his part.

"Morning, Ron," she offered as she grabbed a piece of toast.

Again, he remained motionless aside from shoveling eggs into his mouth.

She tried again, a little louder in case he hadn't heard over the din of conversation throughout the room. "Have a good sleep?"

A loud clatter startled half of the table behind them as Ron dropped his fork and knife onto his plate. He turned toward her, his eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared as if he were ready for a fight. "What?" he asked with a sneer.

"Erm, I just said good morning," Hermione replied, sweat developing on her brow. "Did you sleep well?"

"Fine," he huffed, turning back to his food.

If anything, his frustration only served to motivate her even more. No time like the present, right? He can't know my real reasons, of course, but this needs to be cleared up immediately or the night will be ruined.

"Ron, look, I'm sorry that I've been a bit…off lately. I don't know if it's the final assignments before hols or what, but I feel like I haven't been fair to you over the last couple of weeks. It wasn't right of me to take out my stress on you. But now that classes are almost over and we're all leaving soon, I'm really looking forward to the party tonight. I hope you still are too."


"I'm sorry, 'yup' as in…what exactly?"

He dropped his silverware again as he spun towards her, an unnatural smile appearing out of nowhere. She knew that face. It was the face he always pulled when his mother made him apologize to Ginny after he'd called her a name or something. It was Ron Weasley at his least genuine. "Yup, we're still going!" he exclaimed. "See you there!"

As he pushed back from the table, his scowl returned and he stomped out of the Great Hall, leaving behind a wake of terrified first and second-year students. Desperate for answers and more confused than ever, she turned to Harry. "What was that all about?"

Harry sighed and rolled his eyes. "You two are both insane, and you know what? For once, I'm staying out of it."

Having suddenly lost her appetite, Hermione decided to go for a walk before classes started. She wandered the halls for nearly twenty minutes, her mind so preoccupied that she was almost late for Defense Against the Dark Arts class.

Snape's lesson, in a very uncharacteristic fashion, flew by, as did lunch and double afternoon Ancient Runes. Dread continued to mount throughout the day as half seven approached, and Hermione found herself checking the clock more than usual, wishing it would slow down just for the day.

By seven fifteen, however, she was up in her dormitory and dressed in what she hoped was an elegant ensemble; a violet knee-length cocktail dress and a pair of nude high-heels. After taking one last look at herself in the mirror, she inhaled deeply, blew all the air out of her lungs, and walked out the door of the bedroom, trying to tune out Parvati and Lavender's whispers as she left.

She descended the staircase as slowly as possible, swallowing hard when she reached the bottom. Her eyes immediately fell on his hunched form sitting on the sofa in his new dress robes. Disappointment washed over her as she realized that her first thought was about how stressful the evening would be. This was the moment she'd been looking forward to for weeks. No, not weeks, years, if she was being honest with herself. And now that it had finally come, she just wanted it to be over as soon as possible? How could so much have gone wrong?

"Hi," she said.

As soon as he heard her voice, his shoulders dropped. He stood up and turned around, half of his face illuminated by the flames roaring in the fireplace. "Hey."

"Ready to go?"


Without another word, they left the Common Room and made their way down the moving staircases towards Professor Slughorn's office. Ron's hands were shoved in his pocket the whole time, and he looked miserable.

This was a bad idea. It was always a bad idea. I should've known better.

When they turned down the final corridor towards the party, Hermione caught sight of Harry and Luna up ahead at the door. "Hey, Harry!" she called, jogging forward as fast as her blister-inducing shoes would allow.

Harry glanced from Hermione to Ron and back as they approached, his brow furrowing with confusion trying to interpret the dynamic between his two best friends. "Erm, hi guys."

"Hi, Luna, you look lovely!" Hermione said once they caught up.

"Thank you, Hermione. I don't wear my Dirigible Plum earrings very often, but seeing as tonight was a special occasion…"

Not knowing what to say, Hermione simply nodded and smiled. Ron, on the other hand, stared at Harry as though he were being held hostage, prompting Harry to usher them all into the room. After greeting Professor Slughorn, who once again called Ron by the incorrect name, and saying hello to a few of their friends from other houses, the four of them found drinks and snacks in the corner of the room.

"So," Harry started, rocking back and forth on his heels, "Ron, what do you think so far? Kind of a weird scene, but the food is decent."

"I think it's pretentious."

Hermione suppressed her groan and looked away. He was right, of course. The whole affair was ridiculous. If the circumstances were different, the two of them would've had a ball spending the night ridiculing the privileged and arrogant nature of the event. But that assumed that Ron would be willing to talk with her, which didn't seem likely any time soon.

"Yeah, it is a bit stuffy," Harry agreed.

"A bit?" Ron spat. "Who wants to wear their dress robes in school? And all so that these snobby tossers can spend some time talking with other snobby tossers about who's richer or who's Dad is higher up at the Ministry? It's perverse."

"They're not all like that, Ron," Hermione said. Provoking him was probably a mistake, but his negative attitude had been grating on her all day. Her frustration was rising, and she was having a difficult time remaining calm. It was plain to see that the Slug Club was an elitist organization. Hermione knew that as well as anyone, but it was still a great opportunity to meet new friends and get to know people that could be excellent allies when they eventually started their careers. Why couldn't he see that?

As soon as he turned and glowered down at her, veins bulging out of his neck, she could tell that the conversation wasn't going to end well. "Course they are!"

"What about us? What about me and Harry and Luna? Are we snobby tossers?"

"You know what, maybe you are!" Ron said, raising his voice and attracting the attention of several nearby guests. "If hanging around with this lot is your idea of a good time, then maybe you should just stay and hobnob with the rich and famous. If you're lucky, Malfoy and his Dad might even show up!"

Harry tried to get his best friend's attention, but Ron's anger was laser-focused on Hermione. Which was fine with Hermione, who had decided that she'd had enough. The gloves were coming off.

"What is your problem, Ron? I thought you wanted to come here tonight!"

"I thought you wanted to come with me!"

"What are you on about? Of course I wanted to come with you! I asked you, didn't I?"

"Well, clearly that was before."

Before? Before what?

Hermione racked her brain trying to figure out what he could possibly mean. Before finals? Before last night? Before…oh no, not before she caught him with Lavender? Not that that was her problem, she had every right to be upset with him after that display!

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Ron! I still wanted to come with you tonight. At least until this morning when you suddenly turned into a huge prat!" she screamed.

"Uhh, guys," Harry tried to interject, slinking backward upon receiving furious glares from both of his friends.

"I'm so sorry you had to come with me, Hermione," Ron yelled, his voice laced with venomous sarcasm. "It must be so horrible to have to settle for a stupid Weasley. Next time I'll brush up on my Herbology ahead of time since that's what you really like!"

Blinded by wrath, she barely heard what he'd said before continuing. "I'm sorry I had to come with you, too! I wasn't at first, but seeing how you're acting now…you're embarrassing both of us! But maybe it was doomed from the start; I'm probably just not blonde enough or something!"

"You're daft! I could care less what your bloody hair looks like, I just don't like being lied to…or patronized!"

"I haven't a clue what you're talking about!" Hermione replied, genuinely baffled. "I haven't lied to you once about any of this!"


"It's true!"

"You've lied about wanting to be here with me! How do you think that makes me feel?!"

Tears stung her eyes as the vitriol left her voice and she began pleading with him. "Ron, th-that's not true…it's just…"

"Save it," he answered, slamming his drink on the table and stalking towards the door.

"Ron, please!"

But it was too late. Hermione watched as he swept around the corner and out of sight. A second later, the weight of all of her conflicting emotions over the last several weeks came crashing down on her, and she broke down in the middle of the party. Salty tears were streaming down her cheeks and over her lips as she tried to withhold her sobs. Harry reached out and placed a hand gently on her shoulder, but she brushed him off and ran out of the room past a very confused Professor Slughorn, her hands covering her face all the way. It didn't take long for her to find an empty classroom and throw the door shut behind her before collapsing into a chair and crying against the cool wooden desk. To add insult to injury, when she looked up for a moment to wipe her eyes, she realized that she was in the exact room where she had caught Ron and Lavender together, igniting a fresh round of weeping on what was shaping up to be one of the worst nights of her life.

Why can't I EVER get this right?!

Part 9

Despite the cheerful atmosphere at the Burrow, Ron couldn't bring himself to enjoy the holiday. It was Christmas morning, and a blanket of freshly fallen snow covered the landscape outside his bedroom window. The garden had transformed into a beautiful undulating patchwork of snow drifts, which had only been disturbed by the paw prints of a small rabbit. All throughout the house, he could hear the screams of excitement, laughter, and Happy Christmas-ing from his family members.

Inside his room, however, was a different story.

He and Harry sat in silence, each working their way through the pile of presents at the foot of their beds. After opening his annual jumper from his mother, a box of Fred and George's newest products, a collection of sweets from Ginny, and a broom servicing kit from Harry, a package at the bottom of the pile caught his eye. It was wrapped in bright orange paper, and he had initially missed it as it blended in with the fabric of his duvet. When he picked it up, there was no note or tag with it, just a plain, wrapped package.

"Harry," he asked, "d'you know what this is?"

His best friend pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and squinted at the rectangular present. "No idea."

"Hmm. Well, it must be here for a reason."

After admiring the paper for a moment, he tore it off as quickly as possible. No matter how grumpy he had been feeling throughout the morning thus far, he couldn't stop the huge grin from spreading across his face as he laid eyes on his present. It was a book about the Chudley Cannons and their history, detailing all of the triumphs of their glory years as well as their subsequent downfall. The author was the great-grandson of one of their most legendary players, and he had interviewed nearly every remaining member of the team that was still alive for facts, details, and anecdotes. Ron had heard about it in Quidditch Monthly and had been looking forward to reading it for over a year, but it wasn't due to be published for another several months. But there it was, sitting in his lap, in perfect condition.

As he flipped through the pages, he found the book to be full of colorful images of past teams, spectacular plays, fingertip saves, and a gallery of all of the trophies the team had won over the centuries. It was even better than he'd imagined it would be, and he already knew it would be his favorite present of the year.

"Wow, cool book," Harry said as he glanced up at Ron's bed, pulling on a classic Weasley sweater with a Golden Snitch embroidered on the front.

"Erm, yeah, it's fantastic. I've been excited to read this forever. Wish I knew who it was from, though."

"Wait, let me see it again?"

Ron handed the book to his friend, who took one look at it before his eyes widened. "Oh, right," Harry said.

"What?" Ron asked, his forehead creased with confusion.

"Well, erm, here's the thing. I'm almost one hundred percent certain I know who this is from."

"Oh, great. I'd love to thank them for it, it's the perfect gift."

Harry's shoulders slumped as his face screwed up in a wince. "Right, well, if you insist. It's from Hermione."

"Oh." Try as he may, Ron couldn't keep the tone of surprise out of his voice. The Slug Club party had only been a few days ago, and he was still stewing over the fight they'd had at the end of the night. His anger had faded to some degree, and they'd managed to avoid each other on the train ride to London, but his foul mood had followed him all the way back home from Hogwarts. Even his parents had noticed that he wasn't himself as soon as he'd stepped off of Platform 9 ¾. And despite all that, she still sent him a present? Not only that, the perfect present? Maybe he'd gotten things all wrong. Maybe things weren't as hopeless as they seemed.

"Yeah, she told me about it weeks ago," Harry continued, "but I wasn't sure…you know, given the circumstances."

"Right," Ron said, his eyes glazed over.

All of a sudden, his chest tightened with panic. His gift for her. He'd meant to pull it out of his trunk as soon as he'd gotten home and hide it somewhere. It had been concealed fairly well in the bottom of his trunk, but perhaps it had still made its way to her somehow? Merlin, how would he explain that one?

He threw his blankets off of his legs and jumped out of bed, climbing over a very confused Harry as he scrambled toward his trunk in the corner of the room. As soon as he threw open the top, he reached inside and groped around under the stacks of haphazardly packed magazines and clothes.

The box wasn't there.

He knew what he had to do. Hopefully, her gift was an attempt to clear the air, and he would need to do some explaining of his own if there was any chance of reconciliation. Pushing aside his dizziness, he pulled his new Christmas jumper over his head and flew out of his room, taking the stairs two at a time down towards the living room. Harry tried to follow after him, but Ron beat him to the bottom of the staircase by a full flight and a half.

"Dad!" he called. "Is Hermione's house still connected to the Floo Network?"

Arthur Weasley padded out of the kitchen, tapping his finger on his chin. "Now that you mention it, I believe it is. Why, are you going to visi-"

"Great," Ron interrupted, marching towards the fireplace. "I need to talk to her."

Part 10

The Granger family tree twinkled in the early morning sun. Crystal ornaments and strings of silver tinsel cast tiny sparks of light across the living room, creating an ambiance of winter inside their modest London home. The small family sat around in a circle, each with a steaming cup of tea and a bacon roll straight from the pan. It was a tradition at their house that nobody would open any presents until the gifts had been distributed, everyone was seated in their normal spot, and they all had their special Christmas morning breakfast.

Everything was very warm and comfortable, but Hermione was having a difficult time getting into the Christmas spirit. Only a couple of days had passed since her fight with Ron at the party, and the images of his sneer still occupied her mind at all times of day and night. Sleep had been fleeting, and her appetite had dwindled to the point where her mother had almost hauled her into the doctor for a check-up. But it wouldn't have helped; she knew that the only thing that could improve her mood would be figuring out her issues with Ron.

"Want to go first, sweetheart?" Richard Granger said, motioning towards Hermione's pile of presents.

"Erm, sure," she replied, selecting a squishy package off the top. The contents of the package weren't a surprise, but her heart nonetheless sunk deeper into her gut when she unwrapped Mrs Weasley's hand-knit jumper. Great, she must have no idea that her son and I were screaming at each other not three days ago.

"That's lovely, dear, who's it from?"

"Oh, it's from Ron's mum. She makes new ones every year."

Her parents looked back and forth between each other, trying to hide their suspicious smiles. "That's…very kind of her to include you," Jean Granger replied.

"Yes, she's quite thoughtful like that."

For the next half an hour, the family went in circles opening the remainder of their presents until Hermione was the only one with a gift left. She had been avoiding opening it all morning, a swarm of doxies flying around in her stomach as she finally picked it up. It was a small, thin box wrapped in an issue of the Daily Prophet. Only one person had ever wrapped her presents in newspaper as opposed to actual wrapping paper, but he was the last person she'd expected a gift from that year.

Carefully, she pulled the tape off of the paper until a purple velvet box fell out onto her lap. When she snapped open the lid, she gasped, startling her parents. A brilliant red and orange quill sat on a tiny satin pillow. She lifted the quill from the box, feeling its perfect balance in her hand as she pretended to write.

"Honey, that's beautiful," Richard said.

"Absolutely gorgeous," Jean agreed. "Who got that for you?"

The synapses inside Hermione's brain were firing furiously. It has to be from Ron, right? But why? Why would he send me something if he was so angry? Maybe it's a mistake? Maybe it's a peace offering? Maybe it's…well, maybe it's from someone else and I'm driving myself crazy for no reason. But it has to be Ron! Of course, I didn't send him anything, so why-oh no! What if I did send him something?

Ignoring her parents, she set down the quill and bounded up the stairs to her room, landing on her knees in front of her trunk. She searched under every pile of jumpers to no avail; her gift for Ron was gone.

"Mom!" she called, dashing back down the stairs. "Did you give all of the packages in my trunk to Errol when he came by?"

"I did," Jean replied tentatively, one eyebrow raised at her daughter's eccentric behavior. "Was that a mistake?"

Hermione grabbed her new jumper from Mrs Weasley and threw it over her pyjamas. There was only one remaining course of action. She needed to explain herself to him and figure out what he meant by sending her that quill. Hopefully he wouldn't throw her out of the house as soon as he saw her, but she had to try. She snatched the quill off the table and turned back to her parents, stammering, "Erm, no, not exactly. But I just…I have to go."

Rushing over to the fireplace, she picked up a handful of Floo powder and stepped carefully in between the singed logs.

"Honey, where are you going?" Jean asked.

"Just over to the Weasley's for a bit…uhh, to say Happy Christmas. I'll be back soon."

"Okay," her mother replied. "Please be safe."

"I will. The Burrow!" she screamed, throwing the powder at her feet.

A few seconds later, she emerged in the familiar fireplace of Ron's childhood home, a bit woozy as she stepped out and brushed the soot off of her clothing. In fact, she was so disoriented that she almost didn't notice the ash floating down onto a pair of sock-covered feet directly in front of her. The realization that another person was so close to her was startling, and she gasped and stepped backward, bumping her head on the mantle with a dull thud.

"Ooh, are you alright?" a voice called as she rubbed the back of her head.

"I'm fine."

Her eyes crawled up the tall, lanky frame until they fell on the confused face of Ron Weasley.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

After checking her fingertips for blood, she stared back up at him, careful to keep her expression as neutral as possible. For all she knew, they were still in a fight, after all. "I came to talk to you. Why are you standing right in front of your fireplace?"

"It's my fireplace, I don't need a reason," he said, his look of concern morphing into an irritated glare.

"True, but how much time do you usually spend standing alone in the living room on Christmas morning?"

His shoulders slumped and he sighed, running a hand through his shaggy red hair. "Fine, I was going to Floo to your house, but you beat me to it! Happy now?"

"You were…whatever, it doesn't matter," she said as she tried her hardest to shake the romantic thoughts from her head. "I need to talk to you."

"Good, because I need to talk to you, too," he replied, still sounding miffed.

Just as she was about to launch into a diatribe questioning his intentions, Harry popped around the corner, his eyebrows lifting in surprise as he tried to comprehend the situation. He clearly hadn't expected Hermione to show up, and his gaze bounced back and forth between the two of them.

"Uhh, Happy Christmas, Hermione," he offered.

The blank stares from both of his friends caused him to slowly back out of the room, retreating to the kitchen where he'd surely still be listening.

Hermione refocused her attention and held up the small velvet box and eyed Ron, then the quill, then Ron again. "You bought me this?"

"Yeah, so what?"

"It's a-"

"Phoenix feather quill."

"Right. I've wanted one for years, they're exceptionally rare."

"I know, you never shut up about it. Every time we're at Scrivenshaft's, you stare at it for hours."

Even though his honesty was masked in anger, she was taken aback at the insinuation that he'd been listening all along. Every time they'd gone to Scrivenshaft's together, she'd assumed that he was tuning out everything she was saying, just waiting until she finally agreed to leave and head to Zonko's or Honeydukes instead. But no, he had been paying attention, squirreling away ideas for future gifts.

No! Don't lose your resolve now, Hermione. Yes, it was a sweet gesture, but we're still mad at him, remember?

"I didn't stare at it for hours, Ronald! I simply…admired it, that's all."

"Trust me, I know. And by the way, it's awfully hypocritical given all the bollocking you give Harry and me for ogling new racing brooms."

"Ugh, you're hopeless! Tell you what, why don't you just keep it then," Hermione spat, thrusting the box at him and stamping her foot. "Maybe Lavender would like it."

"What? I have no idea what you're on about!"

"Sure you don't, Ron…"

"I don't! But while we're on the subject of gifts, this must have been from you," he said, holding up the Chudley Cannons book.

Blood boiled inside of her as her fists balled up of their own accord. "So what if it was? I'm not even sure why I bothered, especially since it's all about such a dreadful team."

"What, screaming at me isn't enough for you? Now you have to have a go at the Cannons?"

"The Cannons, please. Cannons makes them actually seem impressive. They should just be called the stupid…Orange…men or something."

"The Chudley Orangemen? That's the dumbest name I've ever heard!"

"That's beside the point!" Hermione screamed, trying to get herself back on track.

"Well if you don't want my gift, I don't want yours!" Ron yelled, shoving the book into her arms. "I know Neville supports Holyhead Harpies, but why don't you give it to him?"

"Neville?! What does he have to do with it?"

"I mean, if you're in love with him, you ought to get him a present, no?"

In a split second, the gears spinning in Hermione's brain ground to a halt and her jaw dropped. Her? In love with Neville? Where could he possibly have gotten that idea? She didn't know whether to laugh at how ridiculous it sounded or scream at him for his pure idiocy.

"I'm sorry, but you think…me and Neville?"

"Course," Ron said, folding his arms in front of himself and sticking out his chest. "I saw you two all cozied up together the other night. I may not be a genius like you, Hermione, but even I could figure that one out!"

"Ronald, you're completely off the mark! I have no idea what you're talking about!"

"Oh, stop it!" he yelled, face turning beet red. "Now you're lying to me? Again?!"

"I'm not lying, Ron!"

"Oh, so it must have been some other know-it-all sixth-year Gryffindor girl hugging him in our Common Room the night before the party?"

As she dug through memories of the past week, her heart stopped when she remembered what she had been doing that evening. Neville had needed help with his Defense Against the Dark Arts essay, so they had been studying together. And when they had finished, she had inadvertently asked about his Christmas plans and then given him a…


"Ron," Hermione said, her voice suddenly soft and pleading, "you're right, I did give him a hug. But you have it all wrong. Neville is a good friend, but I'm not in love with him."

The deep lines that had been etched into Ron's forehead smoothed themselves as his face dropped and the muscles in his neck relaxed. "You're not?"

"No," she replied with a small chuckle. "I was helping him with his essay so that Snape would stop bullying him. That's all."

"But…that hug. I saw it."

"Well, remember when we saw him at St. Mungo's last year at Christmas? It completely slipped my mind when I asked him about his holiday plans, and I sort of made him upset. The hug was just a bit of comfort and, if I'm honest, an apology for being so insensitive as to bring up such a delicate subject."

"Oh," he croaked, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed. "Right, well…that makes sense."

"Is that why you were so angry at the party?"

His eyes darted around the room as he tried to evade the question. "Erm, I mean, a little, perhaps. Yeah, alright, I guess so."

"I wish you'd have just asked me. It could've saved us both a lot of trouble."

"Right," he said, nodding sheepishly. "Sorry about that."

Having an explanation for his behavior at the party lightened the weight on her shoulders substantially, but it still didn't account for the fact that he'd been gaslighting her for a month about Lavender. At least, she thought he was. Perhaps it was time to clear that up as well.

"It's okay. To be honest, Ron, that doesn't even bother me. It was just an honest miscommunication. What really bothers me is that you're still hiding something from me."

"I'm not, honestly!"



"Nothing about a certain blonde roommate of mine?"

It couldn't have been more obvious when the realization dawned on him. His eyes went wide as dinner plates and his gasp would've startled a dragon. "Oh, fuck. I know what you're going to say."

"It was about a month ago, after-"

"Potions, right," he interrupted. "Bloody hell, I didn't think anyone else was around."

Didn't think anyone else was around?! Hermione was seeing red, her nostrils flaring as she glared back at him. "Excuse me? Like that's some kind of legitimate rationalization?!"

"No, no!" Ron pleaded, holding up his hands in defense. "You've got it all wrong!"

"So I didn't see you snogging Lavender Brown?"

"No, you did, but…it wasn't like that. She was interested in me and sort of…came at me. It wasn't my idea, and I stopped her right after she started!"

He was lying. He had to be lying. Didn't…didn't he have to be lying?



"You expect me to believe that a pretty girl came up to you, a sixteen-year-old boy, and snogged you right on the lips, and then you stopped her?" she asked, poking him in the shoulder.

"I did, I swear!"

"Why should I trust you, Ron?"

His mouth opened, preparing to offer further exonerating evidence, but then he clamped it immediately shut. It was a strange silence given the racket they were making, and it worried Hermione in a way. Was he changing his mind? Deciding whether to come clean? Merlin, what if he really did have feelings for her?

Finally, he sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and looked her right in the eye, candor and earnestness pouring out of him. "Because you're my best friend."

It should have been enough. His words should have convinced her to drop the subject and start working out how to repair their relationship. But the twinges of doubt in the back of her mind wouldn't leave her alone. He still wasn't telling the whole truth.

"I-I want to believe you, Ron, I do. But I saw you. I saw you kissing her. Do you know how that made me feel?"

"Hermione, look," he said, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. "It kills me that you had to see that. I wish it had never happened. I never meant to hurt your feelings or anything, but I promise I got out of there straight away. If you'd hung around for a second longer, you would've seen it. I couldn't have been less interested!"

"But…but that doesn't make any sense! I've seen you looking at her before, and-"

"No, you haven't! Not like that, at least!" he interrupted.

"But she's so pretty! And you're, well, a boy!" she said, watching him fidget with frustration. "Why wouldn't you be interested?"

"I don't know, because!"

"Because why?"

"Just because!"

"But because why?!"

"Because the only person I want to kiss is you!"

The moment hung in the air between them. Neither could take their eyes off the other, and both were breathing hard. It was as though Hermione was seeing him in a whole new light, and the possibilities were making her skin hot and flushed all over her body. Before she could say anything, she had to stop her mind from wandering to a less-than-appropriate place.

"Y-You what?" she squeaked.

Ron's face was beet red, and he looked away, suddenly quite interested in the trim of the mantle. "I mean, well…yeah. It's you, Hermione. If I was going to be shut up in that classroom with anyone, I would have wanted it to be you."

Hermione Granger was nothing if not opinionated. She had thoughts about nearly every situation and was rarely shy about injecting them into the conversation. But at that moment, she was speechless. He had finally uttered the words that she'd always hoped to hear from him. All of the nights spent worrying and wondering how he felt, all of the days she'd been distracted from her professors' lectures by the back of his head, all of the evenings she'd barely been able to concentrate on her homework because of his tea tree oil scent in the seat next to her…it was all reciprocated. She couldn't even be sure that her feet were on the ground any longer, but honestly, who cared?

"Erm, Hermione?" he asked, pulling her out of a delightful stupor.

No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't stop the grin from spreading over her face, causing him to smile back at her and relax his shoulders as she removed the quill from the box. "It really is a lovely quill, Ron, and so thoughtful. Thank you so much."

"Oh," he replied with a sigh, "of course. Glad, erm, glad you like it."

"I really do. It'll be my new favorite in no time."

He beamed back at her for a moment before remembering what he was holding. "Oh, and the book. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Best present of the year, hands down."

"I had a feeling you'd like it," she said with a small nod of her head.

"How did you…?"

"Get a copy?" she finished. "Well, I've actually ordered so many books from the publisher that they sort of know me there."

"Course they do," he replied with a snicker. His lopsided grin and the wisp of orange fringe drooping over his eye caused her stomach to flip. Staring into his piercing blue eyes, she almost lost her train of thought.

"Erm, yes, so I told them how you've loved the Cannons forever and how much you were looking forward to the book, and they offered me an advanced copy."

The smirk on his face gave away his slight sense of smugness. Usually, those kinds of things bothered her, but she was all too pleased to give him that one. "That's incredible," he replied as his fingertips ran over the cover of the book.

"I mean," she said, taking a small step toward him, "I think you are their biggest fan. So really, it's only right."

He let out a low chuckle and rapped his knuckles on the book twice before looking back up at her. "I really am sorry, you know. I never should've assumed…well, I reckon I should've just talked to you before jumping to conclusions."

The relief that flooded through Hermione's body was even better than the feeling of getting a perfect score on a difficult exam or top marks on an essay. As she looked back at him, the sincerity in his eyes was easy to read, and she reached out and placed a hand on his arm. "I'm sorry, too. I assumed just as much as you did, and it was the cause of this whole sequence of events."

"Nah, it's not your fault. I would've thought the same thing."

"Maybe, but it's like you said; I should've just asked. I trust you more than anyone in the world, Ron. But…seeing the two of you together brought out some…let's call them 'insecurities' that I've had for a while."

"What do you mean?" he asked as his grin turned into a frown.

The blush was rising again in her cheeks, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. No point in beating around the bush now, time for cards on the table.

"I-I had a really hard…erm, I always thought…"

"Hermione," he said in a calm tone, soothing her frayed nerves as he mirrored her by placing a hand on her shoulder. "You can tell me anything."

Trying to relax, she closed her eyes and spoke as quickly as possible. "Do you know how hard it was for me to ask you to that party?"


"The party? When I asked you at first, and when we talked about it again the day of the match, remember?"

"I remember."

"That was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do. You have to understand, I much prefer to operate in certainties. I raise my hand in class when I'm sure I know the answer, but only then. I help you or Harry with homework because I'm confident I understand the material. But when it came to seeing if you wanted to go to the party with me…well, there was no way for me to know ahead of time whether it would work out, no way to know how you'd react. A-And nothing in my life had ever been so important to me; if you'd said no, it wouldn't have just affected a silly party, it could have ruined our friendship forever. I don't know what I would've done if that had happened."

Spilling her most guarded secrets to her longtime crush had left her confused and worried, and for a moment she kept her eyes closed, figuring that she could wait a bit longer before having to parse his reaction. When she finally blinked again, her eyes were wet with tears. Fortunately, though, she was immediately confronted with his, which were red-rimmed themselves. His smile was warm, caring, and only a little bit chastising, and it told her everything she needed to know.

"Of course I said yes. It was you. I'll always say yes."

With an embarrassed grin, she wiped her eyes and looked back up at him. Her face was flaming hot, and she was sure she was bright scarlet, but she didn't care. The confirmation she had been seeking forever had finally arrived. Life with Ron Weasley had always had its share of stress, but knowing now how things turned out in the long run, she wouldn't have changed a thing. "Good. Because next time there's a party, I don't plan on asking anyone else."

"I'd appreciate that. Still feel horrible that I ruined what could've been a great night in the first place, though."

"Well," she replied, her lip curling up mischievously, "I suppose we'll just have to try going on a date again sometime."

"Try again?"

"Exactly. I mean, if you'd like to."

His face relaxed into another smile as he exhaled. "Yeah, I would love to."

"Good. And since I seemed to make a bit of a mess of it last time, I'll leave the details up to you this go around. Although, perhaps we could do something with fewer people around."

"Has anyone ever mentioned that you're awfully bossy?" he asked, raising one playful eyebrow at her.

"Once or twice."

As the laughter died down, their gazes reconnected, his blue eyes glowing with a fire she'd never seen before. He placed the book back on the table, his gaze never leaving her, and Hermione's breath caught in her throat as she leaned forward. There were only a few centimeters between their noses, and she could feel his warm breath against her cheeks.

"If it's all the same to you, I'll take that date right now, actually," he offered, sliding both hands onto her hips and pulling her body closer.

"Ron, it's Christmas morning! My family was shocked enough that I disappeared into the fireplace to come here."

"I'm sure mine wouldn't love it either, but screw them."

"Ronald!" she chided as her fingers crawled up his stomach and around his sides, her palms landing in the middle of his back. "We'll have plenty of time when we get back to school."

"You expect me to be patient for three weeks? You're sure we've actually met before?"

Her forehead fell forward onto his chest as she laughed. "It's not that long. Besides, I know how much you hate coming back to school after the holidays, so just look at it as a reason to look forward to the return trip."

"Fine, but only because you're worth the wait."

As if their minds were linked, each took a small step closer to the other so that their bodies were fully pressed against the other. The tea tree oil from his shampoo filled her nostrils, and his large hands warmed her lower back. Although she was sure that his family was listening just around the corner, the living room was quiet. A sense of peace came over her as she turned her head against him, pressing her ear to his sternum and listening to the subtle thudding of his heartbeat. Just when she thought she could live in his embrace for days at a time, she felt his thumb and forefinger applying a gentle upward pressure against the bottom of her chin.

Lifting her eyes to his, she found him staring back at her, his eyes unblinking as he swallowed hard. His other hand slid up her back and cupped her cheek, the pad of his thumb running over her delicate rosy skin. With a tilt of her head, she licked her lips, leaving them slightly parted as he leaned toward her. As soon as she felt his soft lips brush against hers, her knees buckled and her eyelids fluttered shut as fireworks exploded all over her body.

Hermione ran her hands up his back and into his hair, tangling them in the thick red strands as the kiss deepened. It didn't seem possible for her to be any closer to him, but that didn't stop either of them from trying, jockeying against each other for more contact. His lips parted, allowing his tongue to flick against hers as he wrapped one arm tightly around her. She shuddered, running her fingers over his rough stubble as she opened her mouth wider, granting him all the access he wanted. A low moan escaped her throat as his fingers twirled the hair at the base of her neck, and she could feel him smiling against her lips as they finally broke apart, breathing deeply.

Ron wrapped her back in his arms, peppering a few more kisses against her lips and cheeks until he finally pulled back. Her heart was beating faster than she'd ever felt before as she beamed up at him, reveling in the goofy grin he flashed her way. The quill was beautiful, but she had received the best present of all, and better still, it was only just beginning.

"Happy Christmas, Ron," she said as she melted back into him.

He sighed as he buried his face in her hair. "It is now. Happy Christmas, Hermione."