There were many things at Hogwarts that one could be confused about. The moving staircases. The talking statues and singing suits of amour. The classes themselves. The secret passageways. The mysteries that always seemed to be surrounding the school. But Ron had found over the past year that the thing about Hogwarts that confused him most wasn't the castle itself, but the inhabitants of the castle. And for Ron Weasley, there was a certain person who lived inside the castle that confused him most of all. More than anyone and anything, Hermione Granger was the bane of his existence, and had been since his first day at Hogwarts. Of course, it would have been so much easier if she'd been able to go on being the bane of his existence, but of course there had to be that added variable where she inexplicably became the best part of his day. He knew it was strange for Hermione Granger to be the best part of his day, but she was, and this was something Ron could not understand. What about Hermione made her the person he most looked forward to seeing when he woke up in the morning?
It would have been absolutely wonderful if Ron had been able to continue looking at Hermione like he had that first day on the train. But no! Instead he had to go and get to know her, therefore ending any misconceptions he was perfectly happy holding about her obviously flawed personality. As he had started understanding Hermione more, he had realized that she was nothing like he had first thought she was. Yes, she was smart…she was definitely smart. But, unfortunately for him, she was a lot more than that. She was kind. She was empathetic and sympathetic and concerned for the wellbeing of everyone around her. If you asked her to help you with your homework, she would do it. No matter who you are, no matter how you treated her- unless you were Malfoy-she would help you out. When Ron had first met her, he had thought that they were completely different people. But, on the contrary to that, she had a thirst to prove herself- Ron felt that, too. They were definitely alike in that way, although their goals for greatness were for slightly different reasons. His was to become better than his brothers. Hermione's was to show everyone that she belonged in this world that she was not born into. Ron hated the fact that she needed to do this, in any case. It was the fault of people like Malfoy, who made Hermione feel as though she does not belong here when everyone knows she does.
When he had first met Hermione Granger, Ron had been certain that she would be the single most bothersome person at Hogwarts. He had been sure that she was books and cleverness, and that was absolutely it. When he looked at her, he saw a girl that was spoiled, a girl that was a snob. A girl who purposefully tried to be obnoxious because she wanted to show everyone that she was better. He thought that she was the kind of girl that didn't see any of her flaws because she was so obsessed with what was wonderful about herself. As he'd gotten to know her, he'd understood that Hermione felt an insecurity that he could easily relate to. She knew her character flaws, but somewhere along the way she had chosen to be herself in spite of the fact that who she was sometimes annoyed the hell out of people. Best of all, Ron had discovered that when Hermione randomly started spewing facts out of her mouth, she did it because she thought they would benefit others, not because she was trying to be obnoxious. Indeed, that had been one of the strangest days he'd had in his thirteen years of life. It had been the day that he'd looked past Hermione's large hair and even larger teeth and seen her as someone who he could have a friendship with. And now there they were. Friends.
Although, it had to be said, she really did have rather large teeth. They were endearing now to him, of course, but it had to be said how large they were. As a matter of fact, if Hermione and Neville ever got together and had kids, Ron was sure that the kids would look like beavers, what with the gene for buckteeth coming at them strong in both directions.
And then, suddenly, it happened. A flash of something strange went through Ron's stomach. He had no idea what it was, but it had started when he'd begun thinking about Neville and Hermione being together... Ron frowned, confused at his reaction to this mental image. He asked himself what the big deal was. After musing about this for several minutes, Ron came to the conclusion that it was over protectiveness of Hermione. Granted, Neville was the only guy at Hogwarts who was in her league, so it might end up going that way anyways. But the idea of another boy coming along and stealing his best friend- his study partner- felt a little bit nerve wracking. Boys and girls in their year were starting to pair off, starting to date. What if Neville asked Hermione out? What if she helped him with his homework instead of helping Ron? That had to be what he was concerned about, right- Hermione not having the time to help him with homework? Ron couldn't think of anything else that would make him upset about Hermione dating Neville. She was his. His person who he went to for homework help, who was always there to nag him and listen to his jokes and have light little tiffs with. His. He briefly considered going upstairs and asking Harry if he would have a problem with Neville and Hermione dating, but decided against it. First of all, Ron was much too lazy to move from his spot in front of the fire. Second of all, he thought a question like that might bring up some very awkward questions. So Ron kept his thoughts to himself, pondering the strange and mysterious idea that was his mind.
Perhaps it was because he had never had a female friend before. He didn't really know how it was supposed to go, how it differed from having male friends, of which he'd had plenty. He wondered if it was very normal for his feelings for Hermione to be so very different than those he felt for Harry. Harry was his brother, and Hermione was supposed to be his sister. Speaking of sisters, it would probably do well for him to go and ask his own exactly how it felt having a platonic relationship with a guy and see if she felt jealous at the prospect of them dating other girls. Actually, no, he probably shouldn't. She'd take the mickey out of him, for the love of Merlin. But that was beside the point. For some strange reason, Hermione was the person he was the most excited to see in the morning, and Ron didn't really know why. Well, the issue was, he didn't think he'd give a flying rat's arse if Harry went off and dated some girl. It might be odd if Harry dated Hermione, though. Ron would be a third wheel then, wouldn't he? He would be the tag-along, the one that they didn't want there but ended up there anyways. And he couldn't imagine Harry and Hermione in a relationship like that, anymore than he could imagine himself and Hermione in a relationship like that. It would be just weird- the idea of snogging Hermione was absolutely repulsive. Especially with those enormous teeth.
Wait... it was repulsive, wasn't it?
He gritted his teeth, azure eyes staring into the blazing fire. Ron could absolutely pinpoint the day that his confusion had started. It had been that night when he had gone to see Hermione in the hospital wing. He'd been unable to fall asleep that night, and so he'd grabbed Harry's cloak and gone for a walk. He hadn't exactly meant to start walking and end up at the hospital wing, but he had. Something about it had drawn him there, and he knew in his heart that the thing was Hermione. So he'd gone in, and he'd loved seeing her face as she tried to fall asleep, so much more peaceful than it was at anytime during the day. Until he'd mentioned homework, of course, and then she'd gone into freak out mode again. The thought still made him laugh a little bit on the inside. Except the rest of the visit... that had been where this had all started. He'd realized that he knew much more about Hermione than he'd initially thought. He'd been learning things about her, cataloging them in his mind without even trying to. And, strangest yet, she'd known things about him, too. Those little things that he didn't think she knew about Harry. Ron still remembered that odd sense of euphoria he'd felt when she'd started listing all of his endearing traits. It had been a weird mix of triumph and nerves. He'd never exactly felt those two contradiction emotions together, and wondered what they meant. And her eyes! There was something off about seeing her with those cat eyes, too. He missed those brown pools of wonderfulness.
Goodness gracious, had he really just thought that? Brown...pools...of...wonderfulness? Merlin's pants, he had to change the subject fast!
He could still remember the desolation that had stolen over him when McGonagall had showed them Hermione's still, petrified body. The past weeks, he had woken up in the morning expecting her to be at breakfast begging him to study. Then a sense of desperation would take over him as he remembered the fact that she wouldn't be at breakfast, and that he wouldn't hear her voice or see her eyes all day. Classes had seemed so quiet without her- he missed her leaping to the sky in her seat next to him, need to answer the question taking over all forms of dignity. It was so strange for Hermione to be incapacitated that way. She was easily one of the strongest people he knew, and he was a Weasley. But somehow, in the back of his mind, Ron had made Hermione invincible. He had forgotten then she was a human, and that she could get hurt too. When the Muggleborn attacks had started, he hadn't really thought Hermione would be getting attacked. They had needed her to be there, to be their friend, to solve the mystery, to nag the life out of them. She was okay now, though. He had to keep reminding himself of this fact. She was fine. Ron could still remember how it had felt to see her running towards him and Harry in the Great Hall earlier that night. He'd felt a slight prickling on the back of his neck, and instinctively turned around to see Hermione standing in the door of the Great Hall. Ron's heart had jumped into his throat upon seeing her face, and Harry, upon seeing the joyful look on his best friends' face, had turned around to see what was going on. In light of the fact that they had solved the mystery, Ron hadn't been able to really talk to her since. So when he heard a sudden noise in the common room and turned to see Hermione standing on the foot of the girl's dorm's staircase, simply staring at him, he was glad to see her.
"Hi," he greeted, and she smiled and came to join him.
"What are you doing down here?" she inquired, and he shrugged.
"Probably the same thing you are, I suppose."
"Mind too full of thoughts, then?" she asked, sitting down on the couch next to him. He noticed that she was in a white nightdress, so pretty and innocent looking. He actually quite liked it. It was definitely better than that pink bathrobe she had worn the year before. This was so much looser, and it made her skin look like china. Like she was breakable. He supposed she had been a few hours ago, but now she was back, and he was so grateful.
"Yeah," Ron admitted.
"I have a lot, too," Hermione told him, smiling a little bit. "You can't really think when you're petrified, so I have a bit of thought to catch up on."
"You think too much," Ron told her, smiling endearingly at the familiar phrase.
"And you think too little," Hermione shot back.
"So I've heard," he said, and then, in a highly accurate impression of her he said, "'Oh, honestly, don't you two read?'"
"Oooh, nice job!" Hermione said, applauding sarcastically. "Next time, a little more emphasis on the read, alright?"
"Right," Ron said, and then he grinned lopsidedly at her. Sudden affection for the young girl in front of him was taking over, and it was in a fit of random melancholy that he said, "I missed you, you know."
"Did you?" Hermione asked, looking pleasantly surprised. "Well, I would have missed you, I'm sure, but I was sort of petrified and couldn't think." He didn't find out until many years later that he had been the first person she'd thought of when she'd woken up. "Did you get your homework done while I was gone?"
"Yeah, I did," he told her. "Every time I wanted to play another game of wizards' chess, this little voice in the back of my mind nagged me to start doing my homework. So I did."
Hermione looked slightly flattered at this. Ron took her moment of hesitation to admire the way the moonlight added colors to her bushy hair.
Pants, was this normal?
"Did anything change while I was gone?" Besides you getting taller, of course, she added silently.
"Not really." Except the days were kind of empty without you, he said in his head.
"I'm glad," Hermione admitted. "I hate change."
"Me too," Ron said. "Change is horrible."
"Nothing should ever change, as a matter of fact."
He suddenly stopped talking and just looked at her. When he finally spoke, it was in a very sincere voice.
"Do me a favor, Hermione?"
And she didn't hesitate in answering "Anything," because at the time she didn't think that there was anything to be read into.
"Don't you go off and get yourself petrified again, alright?"
A/N: So, congratulations! You've made it to the end of second year! Now the fun can really begin. Just a quick reminder that the story is entirely canon (AKA: slow moving), that my beta stefanie437 is the best, and that those who review are amazing and fabulous and I am so thankful for all the feedback.