It had been a couple of weeks since Ron and Hermione had started studying together, and he'd never had so much fun. Of course, whenever they left the library, Hermione would always be stuffy, cold, and just generally bitchy to him. But Ron supposed she had the right. And, anyways, he hadn't really expected the whole studying thing to fix it. Yes, the dreams. But not the studying. He'd loved the dreams lately. They'd carried Ron and Hermione through the end of fifth year, and Ron had felt a particular fascination at the Ministry of Magic battle. He had been so protective of Hermione. Dream-Ron had literally always had one eye on Hermione and the other eye on everywhere else, more concerned with her safety then his. It was remarkably selfless, and Ron had never known himself to be a better person. That was the thing about Hermione. She always seemed to make him better. She made him braver, happier, smarter, more mature...
He closed his eyes once again as he pictured the part of the ministry battle where he had literally thrown himself in front of a curse intended for Hermione. It blasted him back and knocked the wind out of him, but he'd seen it coming, and it would have been worse for Hermione, because she hadn't. She also would have landed frontwards, where as Ron landed on his back, making his injuries practically nonexistent. Of course, the other highlight of the battle had been when he'd gotten attacked by the brains. Hermione had been hysterical with panic, refusing to leave his side, and unable to speak for a bit through her tears. A few months ago, Ron never would have understood why she was so upset. After all, she hadn't been the first time he'd gotten attacked by brains. The original time. But in the dream, he realized, he and Hermione had practically become codependent. His adoration for her had become so strong it would not have been an exaggeration to say that he needed her. Any panic Ron felt in real life at the idea of loosing Hermione was nothing compared to how dream-Ron felt. He wasn't sure, but he looked at this as a weakness. He knew that it could end very, very badly.
Perhaps this was foreshadowing to how the dream would turn out. At the rate they were going, Ron knew that he was about to see the future. The potion worked in a very funny way, only showing certain things that really mattered, so Ron knew that he wouldn't be seeing all of it, and he also knew that the dream future would be very different from what the real future would be like. But as soon as he dreamed past sixth year, he'd be going onto his seventh year. And Ron had no idea how that would go. He still wasn't sure if he was coming back to school or going off with Harry. Because the world was collapsing around them all, and Harry was turning seventeen, and nothing at all seemed certain anymore.
That was one thing that Ron had taken for granted nearly all of his life. He'd never known to enjoy how predictable every day life was. Now, things such as school, and even falling in love, were second to Voldemort. Ron remembered the fact that his parents had eloped because of this exact reason. He pictured himself eloping with Lavender. He cringed. Then he pictured himself eloping with Hermione. The icky feeling that Lavender brought on left his stomach, and was replaced by utter calm. The image of Hermione in a long white dress entered his mind, and Ron felt his lips go up into a smile. She was beautiful. She was always beautiful. He'd just been too stupid to notice it for the first three years he'd known her.
“Hi, Ron!” Hermione said, startling him out of his daydream. He grinned happily up at her, sure that his eyes were still a bit glazed over.
Hermione furrowed her brow as she dropped her books onto the table he was sitting at.
“Ron, this isn't the dream. You can't call me Mione. I don't want you to call me Mione, okay?”
Ron quickly came back to real life.
“Right. Sorry. I forgot. Every thing's better there.”
It was pointless to be dishonest, to skirt around the truth. When Hermione had heard him say that he was in love with her in Slughorn's classroom, she had learned everything about him that she could ever find out. It had been his only secret from her, and now that cat was out of the bag, she knew. Although... now that Ron thought about it... her actions towards him hadn't really changed since she found out. It almost seemed as though Hermione hadn't truly believed it. Hm. Ron desperately wanted to instigate a conversation about this, but he wasn't sure how to do it without giving away his position. Then he got an idea. Slowly, he reached into his bag and pulled out a piece of paper.
“So, chapter eighteen of Intermediate Transfiguration states that-” Hermione was saying, but when Ron put the slip of paper in front of her, she stopped and looked at him. “What's this?”
Ron arranged his face into a confused expression.
“I found this a while ago, in my bag. I'm not sure what it means. Care to enlighten me?”
Hermione's eyes widened in surprise as she opened the slip and read the words, her lips forming them as she went. When she was finished, she looked back up at him.
“I know it's my handwriting, but I can't remember what the context was anymore. Do you?”
From the innocence on her face, Ron knew Hermione was lying. He was determined not to let her know how much he depended on this moment, so he said,
“Yeah, I do, a little. I believe you'd heard me saying something to Slughorn, and you were mad at me for it.”
Hermione looked down. When she spoke, it was in a strained whisper.
“Ron, I need to know. Did you really mean that? Are you really-?”
Ron didn't directly address her question at first.
“You don't know what that note means, Hermione?”
Hermione shook her head.
“Well then I didn't mean what I said to Slughorn,” Ron said finally. Better safe then sorry, he thought grimly to himself. “I was trying to make him think I loved you to give me some potion information.”
Hermione looked like she was about to burst into tears.
“Oh. Okay,” she said in a thick voice. “Right. Of course not.”
Instantly, Ron wished he could take the whole conversation back. He watched as Hermione turned away from him, and saw her reach up to furiously brush a tear away.
“It's just-” Hermione said, turning back toward him. “It all fit together, and-” she forced herself to laugh in what Ron was sure Hermione thought was a relieved sound. “I thought I was going to have to turn you down, which would have been awful, don't you think? Yeah, it would have been really awkward-”
Maybe he should tell her. Maybe he should just come out and say it. It couldn't be that hard? And then, if it turned out his way, Hermione would get together with him and he could ditch Lavender.
“-But, you know, the whole thing with your deepest regret being not taking me to the ball, it just seemed-”
“Hermione,” Ron suddenly said, stopping her. Hermione halted, her eyes suddenly becoming wider. Ron remembered the way she looked after Lavender had done her make up in the dream, so doe-eyed and beautiful. And Hermione Granger just seemed to get more gorgeous every year. “Hermione, I'm not sure I understand the whole thing about the dream, either. I mean, with you, there's always a risk. I don't know if you just felt that way for me now, or if I've done something in the past two years that have made you feel differently. But, I guess what I'm trying to say is-”
Oh dear god. She was calling him Won Won? If they got together, she'd call him Won Won? Would it ever end? But with a start, Ron realized that Hermione's lips hadn't moved. As a matter of fact, she'd just whirled around. He followed her gaze and saw immediately who had said his name. Lavender. And she looked mad.
“What are you doing with her?”
Hermione instantly blushed and stood up.
“After everything you said about Hermione the other day, you still want to hang out with her?”
“What?” Hermione said quickly, turning back to Ron. “What did you say about me?”
“I'm actually not sure,” Ron said slowly. “I mean, I was tuning Lavender out, and then she made me agree to something, although what I still have no-”
“He said,” Lavender cut in, crossing her arms superiorly. “That he thought you were the ugliest girl at Hogwarts. Uglier then Eloise Midgion. He said that he thought you were just a snobby know-it-all who couldn't keep her hand down in class for the life of her, and that your hair is out of control. He said he actually pitied McLaggen for having to go out on a date with you. That the only reason he put up with you for the past five years was because you got his homework done.”
Hermione stood there as though paralyzed. Ron stood up angrily.
“Lavender, I did not-” he started, but Hermione was now in action. She grabbed her books and ran out of the library, not bothering to wait to hear what Ron had to say. Lavender looked very smug.
“Nice teamwork!” she said, raising her hand for a high five. But Ron was looking at her with shock on his face.
“I thought I knew who you were,” he said. “At least a little.”
Lavender's smile melted off of her face.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I thought you were alright. I never thought you'd hurt someone just for the pleasure of hurting them. You know?”
And then he, too, exited the library. Ron walked up to the tower without Lavender and into the common room. He instantly found Harry, sitting on a couch and looking rather confused. When he saw the look on Ron's face, however, he moaned.
“What did you do to her now?” Harry asked, and Ron winced.
“Thanks, mate,” Ron responded, sitting down next to Harry. “That ought to make my headache go away.”
“Headache? No, really, Ron.”
“It wasn't me, alright!” Ron snapped, and when Harry looked skeptical, he said, “Well, it wasn't. It was Lavender.”
Harry rolled his eyes.
“If it wasn't you, it was as good as. What'd she do?”
“She made up all these bull insults that I supposedly said to Hermione. FYI, I didn't. But now Hermione thinks I'm the worst bloke out there.”
“Well, why didn't you just explain-?” Harry started, but Ron shook his head.
“I tried to, mate. She just ran out of the place before I could get two words in. Well, maybe two, but... er, you know what I mean.”
Harry thought about this before saying,
“It doesn't seem like something Hermione would really do. Are you sure something else hadn't happened before then to upset her, something that would make her run out of there without getting all of the facts?”
“You mean besides the fact I'm dating Lavender?”
“Yeah, besides that. Something more fresh.”
Ron bit his lip.
“There is something.”
“Well?” Harry said.
“Remember how I told Slughorn I was in love with her, and then Hermione heard and got all mad at me?”
Harry simply nodded, waiting.
“Well, we started talking about her that day, and I told her I had been lying to Slughorn.”
Harry stared at Ron for a few seconds. Then he stood up and walked away.
“God, are you an idiot. I mean, I've met a lot of idiots, but you take the cake. I think Malfoy is less of an asshole then you are, Ron, and that is bloody saying something. You're self destructive, for the love of merlin.”
He started to walk away, and Ron leaped up and sprinted after him.
“Wait, wait, what do I do?”
Harry turned around.
“Ron, who am I, a relationship guru? I'm just as helpless in this as you are. Well, no, actually, I'm not.”
“C'mon, Harry. What would you do?”
Harry briefly considered this before nodding concisely and saying,
“Make it up to her. Show her I care. Kiss her arse. Night, Ron.”
Harry turned around and headed up to the dorms. Ron sat back on the couch and thought about this instead of doing his homework. Then, when it was late, he forced himself to do the work, leading him to go to bed around one AM. And he was so tired. Ron gulped down his potion in a haze, crawled under the warm covers, and fell asleep still thinking about ways to kiss up to Hermione.