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Chapter 3 : Chapter Three
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Second Year: 1992
She couldn't sleep.
No matter how much she tossed and turned, Hermione couldn't stop her mind from wandering, her heart from beating, her head from spinning with a euphoria she had never felt before. And she couldn't quite figure out why, because nothing had really changed since a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago, when she hadn't been experiencing butterflies in her stomach whenever she thought of her best friend.
Merlin's pants, what was wrong with her? Who got butterflies in their stomach while thinking of their friend? It was so strange, something she just couldn't wrap her head around. She knew what it meant, but the idea of that actually happening was absolutely horrid. How could she fancy Ron? He was Ron, just Ron, just the boy who a mere year ago had absolutely hated her. He'd called her a nightmare, he hadn't wanted anything to do with her. And now he and Harry were the best friends she'd ever had, two impish boys who led her into traps and danger and fun. Two boys who needed her to be there for them, who depended on her to help them when the going got rough. Two boys that were funny, and smart, and brave, and the worlds' biggest procrastinators. One of which was famous and sometimes misunderstood, the other insecure but an excellent chess player.
Chess. That was when this had all started, wasn't it? When Hermione had seen Ron get knocked out by the Queen the year before, her heart had lodged itself in her throat. While she was solving the logic poem, her mind kept leaping back to the other room where Ron lay unconscious. She hadn't been able to believe how terribly brave he'd been, and she couldn't shake the frantic, frightened beating of her heart as she watched him fall to the checkered floor. From then on, nothing had really been the same. Whenever she'd seen Ron, she'd felt the tiny fluttering in her stomach, and her heart would give a slight jolt. After she went home for summer vacation the butterflies went away, but she'd occasionally have dreams about what had happened after she'd gotten back to him. She remembered digging her nails into her palm to keep herself from brushing his hair away from his eyes. At the time, she'd thought it was because she hated untidy things. But what if she just wanted to touch his hair? Because, yes, the butterflies had gone away, but then they'd come back. And now she knew for sure what they were.
It was Ron's fault, Hermione decided. It was all Ron's fault that she was in this predicament. If he hadn't defended her against Malfoy when he called her a mudblood, this never would have happened. Ever. She probably could have gone through all her years without even letting the words 'I might fancy Ron' cross her mind. But as soon as that word had crossed Malfoy's lips and Ron had defended her, Hermione had looked at him in the same way she'd seen him at the end of last year with the chess board: A Knight in Shining Armour. Oh, he might not be Prince Charming, but certainly he was a Knight. After he'd started throwing up slugs, Hermione had barely noticed how unattractive it was because she was in her own little world for once, replaying the fury on Ron's face over and over again. The fury that was only there for her, because he cared about her. It was so nice to see him caring about her that way. Yes, she could defend herself quite easily, but it was the thought that counted. It was the fact that his first instinct had been to defend her honor.
It wasn't like Hermione was expecting Ron to be this amazing person who had changed overnight, suddenly becoming a downright romantic. As a matter of fact, it hadn't surprised her very much when he had gone back to acting normal a few seconds later. But he'd changed in her eyes. Now all the tiny things he did seemed so much bigger. Now she could see him growing up to be thoughtful and kind and even occasionally romantic, something she'd had difficulty with before. Now she could see him growing up to being just as good as all of his brothers, even better. Ron was something none of them were, she knew it. He was going to do something none of them had done and she would help him. She would most definitely help him. And then, once she had helped him, he would realize how terribly in love with her he was, and suddenly propose marriage to her...
Hermione stopped herself at once. She'd just gone from a completely sane person to a dreamer in about three minutes. Shaking her head, Hermione decided to restructure her thought process. That wouldn't happen, for sure. She was just being a strange thirteen-year-old dreaming about a future she knew wouldn't happen. Of course she wouldn't marry Ron. For now, she should probably concentrate on figuring out if he fancied her. But then, how could he fancy her when she herself still wasn't sure how much she fancied him? Hermione wondered if the butterflies would fade over time, if she would be able to stop thinking about Ron every second that she wasn't studying. Groaning to herself, Hermione hit her head against the pillow. Immediately, that familiar Hospital Wing scent filled her nostrils. She sighed and flipped over again so that she was on her back. Then she closed her eyes and attempted to fall asleep.
"Hey," said a voice a few seconds later, and Hermione's eyes flew open to see Ron standing over her bed, looking very pale in the moonlight.
"Uh, hi," Hermione replied, her brows pointing down. "Is something wrong?"
Now Ron was the one frowning.
"Not really," he said, shrugging. "I was just- er- bored. Yeah, I was bored and wanted to come see you."
Panic began to roll over Hermione as she thought about what she must look like right now, her eyes still a bit cat-like. Thankfully, all the fur had gone from her face. Ron and Harry hadn't seen her since that first day when they had rushed her to the hospital wing as soon as the incident had happened. Her face hadn't really been discernible underneath all that fur, so Ron wouldn't have been able to pick out how ugly she looked and bank that in his memory. But a few days later, when the fur had been thinner, or a few days after that, when she'd still had a unibrow, if he had seen her she probably would have hated Madam Pomfrey for letting him in. Come to think of it, how had he gotten in?
"How did you get down here?" Hermione asked, and Ron sheepishly held up Harry's cloak. It struck her as odd immediately. Ron had taken the care to get Harry's cloak and sneak down to see her? Furthermore, he had sneaked down to see her without Harry, but using Harry's cloak? It was strange... Hermione felt the amount of butterflies in her stomach increase. And was it her, or were Ron's ears getting slightly red?
"Er- mind if I pull up a chair?" he inquired next, and Hermione mustered a little smile.
"I think the one you'll be having real trouble with there is Madam Pomfrey," she grinned, and Ron let out a little laugh.
"I suppose. We'd better keep our voices down then, haven't we?"
"Definitely," Hermione agreed. There was a long, awkward pause. For some reason, Ron's eyes never left Hermione's face. She raised her hand to her eyebrows, trying to act like she was itching when in reality she was making sure the unibrow was all gone. It was, and Hermione thanked merlin about twelve times before turning her attentions back to Ron. "Where's Harry?" she questioned, and then she suddenly hated herself. Here she was, having alone time with Ron, of which there was precious little in her life, and she was concentrating on Harry James Potter. The other best friend, the one that was always with Ron and preventing her for getting very much alone time with him.
"He didn't come."
Hermione raised an eyebrow.
"Well, obviously. What I mean to say is... why not?"
Merlin's pants, she was making it worse. Now he was going to think that she didn't want to be by herself with him, which was the exact opposite of what was going on.
"I didn't ask him," Ron replied, his face heating up. Hermione bit back a smile as she stared at him. Glee was coursing through her now, but she didn't want to show it, so she settled on playing up the whole type-A personality thing and reprimanding him.
"You mean you took the cloak without asking?"
Ron shook his head immediately.
"No, of course not! I just told him I was going for a walk. I really was going for a walk, you know. I just somehow ended up in here."
"Oh," Hermione said, and the two lapsed into an uncomfortable silence again. It was wonderful that he was with her, but she couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed that he hadn't come searching for her. Then again, the idea that he'd been aimlessly wandering and had ended up by her sick bed was pretty romantic.
Hermione took three seconds to remind herself that Ronald Weasley was not romantic, nor would he ever be. She fiddled with her thumbs instead, teeth scraping her lip as she bit it nervously.
"Why do you always do that?" Ron said suddenly, and Hermione looked up at him with wide eyes.
"What are you talking about?" she asked, trying to think of something she had done to him in recent days that he had strongly disliked and that she was now exhibiting.
"Biting your lip," Ron told her, and Hermione flushed.
"Oh. I'm not sure. It's just a nervous habit. Why, do I do it a lot?"
"Yeah," Ron nodded, rolling his eyes. "You do it when you're listening to the teachers in class, and when you're reading the newspaper, and when you're trying to figure out what to write next on an essay. And I'm pretty sure you do it when you're nervous, too."
Her heart skipped a beat as he heard him talk about her this way, so sweetly without even trying. It was like he had paid extra special attention to her, learned about her. But he obviously didn't know why, as he had gone back to frowning as though he was completely vexed about their homework or pondering the mysteries of life. Then again, she didn't really know why, either. Maybe Ron was just more perceptive than she had initially thought. Or maybe he was just extra perceptive when it came to her. Or maybe she was just thinking wishfully because she had recently discovered she fancied him. Hermione wondered how he had picked so much up about her. Furthermore, she wondered if he knew nearly as much about her as she did him. She released a tiny, nervous laugh.
"Interesting. Should I stop biting my lip, then?"
"No," he said hurriedly.
"So it's not completely horrible?"
"Not completely horrible," Ron allowed. "It's just... you."
"Me?" Hermione said blankly, and Ron nodded.
"There are just these... Hermione things that you do, and whenever I see them I just... it's you!"
She spent at least five minutes just beaming at him, her heart skipping several beats in her chest as she inwardly sung the praises of the universe for giving her the most wonderful and adorable best friend ever. In all her thirteen years, Hermione had never met anyone quite like him. He was the cutest boy she'd ever seen, and the funniest she'd ever met, and she suddenly realized that she couldn't really imagine the rest of her school days without picturing him right beside her, copying her notes, reading her homework over her shoulder, badgering the heck out of her and, on the rare occasion, surprising her in an absolutely wonderful way.
"You know you have your Ron things, too, right?" she said, and he looked surprised.
"You make a certain face when you're contemplating your next chess move, and you eat exactly the same way every night, and while I can still only tell half of what you're saying when you talk with your mouth full, I'm well on my way to being able to tell seventy percent. And you have this look you give me when you're pleading with me to do your homework for you."
She chose not to mention the fact that the tips of his ears turned red when he was nervous, angry, or embarrassed. Hermione had a feeling he already knew that.
"Is it bad?"
"The face I make at you."
"Oh!" Hermione said, and then she shook her head. "No, more like endearing, with the occasional twinge of annoyance."
She couldn't believe she was saying these things. Glancing down at her watch, Hermione decided that talking to Ron at one in the morning really tended to make her reveal things she hadn't been intending on revealing just yet.
"I do like to be annoying," Ron said, perking up a little bit, and Hermione snorted.
"I know you do, Ron." She suddenly turned red. "I must have looked so awful as a cat."
"Where did that come from?" Ron wanted to know, but Hermione didn't say anything, just burrowed her head in her hands in embarrassment. "It wasn't that bad, Hermione. I don't know why you're so concerned about it."
Hermione looked up.
"Really?" she asked, and Ron nodded.
"The disconcerting thing about the whole event is that your eyes haven't gone back to normal yet, and I miss... I, um, I... it's not the same," he finished lamely.
Hermione closed her eyes.
"Better?" she asked.
"A little," Ron admitted. "You don't look perpetually stressed out about homework when your eyes are closed."
Hermione's eyes flew open.
"Homework!" she moaned, beating a fist against the bed. "Merlin's pants, I'm missing so many lessons! I wasn't even thinking about it! RON WEASLEY!"
Ron smirked at her.
"I think we both agreed that I like to be annoying sometimes."
"Oh, shut up."
There was a pause, then Hermione said,
"Uh-huh?" he replied, taken aback by how serious her voice was.
"I never got to thank you."
"For defending me. From Malfoy."
He turned his reddest color yet as he avoided her eyes.
"It was nothing," he told her. "I would have done the same thing for Harry, of course."
"Of course," Hermione allowed.
But she knew in her heart that he had never vomited slugs for Harry. And that was what made all the difference.
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