Sunlight reflected off the Chudley Cannons posters hung haphazardly on the walls of Ron's bedroom, creating an ethereal orange glow. Despite the unnatural brightness, Ron remained asleep. In fact, he was intent on sleeping until the summer holidays were over, but even the best laid plans never survive contact with the enemy. In Ron's case, the enemy was his mother's list of chores.
"Ron, wake up," came a female voice through Ron's cloud of sleep. The only reaction it generated was to cause an arm to clamp more tightly on the pillow over his head.
"Get up, you great git!" The voice wasn't going away, and somewhere inside Ron's sleep-addled brain, he realized that it wasn't his mum. That meant it must have been the only other female in the house.
"G'roff, Ginny," he mumbled through the pillow. "Nee' mur slee."
"No, Ron. You have to get up now. Mum's been yelling for you for thirty minutes and if she has to come up here, she said she would owl Hermione and tell her you can't get any more letters from her for the rest of the summer."
Hermione? Hermione! Ron shot out of his bed, sheets and bedding sprawled onto the floor. "I'm up, I'm up!" he shouted groggily.
Ginny grinned. "Good. Now get downstairs and get something to eat. We've got loads of work to do before Harry gets here." With that, she threw a shirt at him.
It was the same shirt he had worn yesterday. He gave it a test sniff, and deciding that it wasn't too bad, shoved it over his head and onto his torso. "That's just wrong, you know that," she said.
He ignored her and looked at her pleadingly. "Ginny, I need your help. Hermione wrote me last night and I've got no idea what to do about it. She's absolutely nutters!"
Ginny raised her hands in resignation. "Fine, but I'll only help you after we've done our chores."
Harry was coming over tonight. They had just received word from Dumbledore the night before and his mum had flown into a tizzy over the state of the house. She had made them promise to clean the house and Ron was not looking forward to it.
He ran a hand through his hair and judged it satisfactory for doing chores. Then he grabbed a pair of jeans and thrust them on before lazily shuffling downstairs to eat with his sister.
Once breakfast was over, Ron's mum had them clear the table and wash the dishes as their first chore of the day. Ron was already bemoaning his fate. Even without the looming threat of replying to Hermione's letter, he had planned on a lazy afternoon of flying his broom around in the back paddock and catching up on his Marvin the Mad Muggle comics.
As soon as they had the last dish put back, his mum appeared in front of them and handed them each a piece of parchment. "Now I want these done first, so that even if you slack off, the most important things will be done." She gestured at the top half of the list, which consisted of several jobs Ron hated the most.
"Aw, Mum! Why do we have to degnome the garden again? We just did it two weeks ago." Ron knew his mum didn't react well to whining, but every now and then it got him out of doing a chore or two.
"No moaning about chores, young man." Apparently it wasn't going to work today. "You've been lolling about all summer, so I won't hear another word. Besides, Harry's your friend and you've got to set a good example."
"Mum," he said exasperatedly, "Harry doesn't care how the house looks."
That must have been the wrong thing to say, because she shouted, "Well, I do, Ronald. And so should you!"
Dejectedly, Ron set about doing his chores. He studiously avoided his mother for the rest of the morning, which wasn't difficult because she was busy baking biscuits, pies and other confections. It amazed him how happy she was when cooking. Perhaps it was her way to bleed off stress.
He cleaned and dusted the bookshelves in the living room while Ginny folded and put away the laundry. Even when he had been cleaning Grimmauld Place last year, he had never seen as much dust. No wonder, he never saw anyone reading the books. Hermione would be livid if she knew that there were books that had never been cracked open.
Which reminded him of the pickle he was in with her. Since the beginning of the holidays, Ron had been trading owls with her and they quickly escalated into a sparring match. Ron had been at a disadvantage from the beginning because he couldn't see her get riled up, and that was half the fun. The other factor was that the written word was Hermione's element. He was like a fish out of water, while she swam laps around him with words like 'incorrigible' and 'felicitous'. How can you argue with someone when you don't even understand what she's saying?
That wasn't even the real problem. Her latest letter had all but told him she was fed up with their arguments and refused to send him any more owls unless he apologized and stopped arguing with her. At first, Ron was simply angrier with her, and hastily wrote out a strongly worded reply that was sure to get her goat. That was until he realized exactly what she said. "I've had enough, Ron. There will be nothing left of our friendship if these petty arguments aren't resolved."
It terrified him to think that she would actually call off their friendship. So for the next three hours, Ron desperately tried to think of something to fix the problem. He was at a loss as to what to do and by then, it was past midnight so he wouldn't be able to find anyone awake who would help him.
With a dejected sigh, he renewed his efforts to move a stack of old boxes from a corner in the living room to the attic. The sooner he was done with his chores, the sooner he could enlist Ginny's help in salvaging his friendship with Hermione.
Finally finished with their individual chores, Ron and Ginny trudged out into the garden and began searching for gnomes. Because they had just recently been removed, the gnomes were difficult to spot. Eventually, they found two crouching behind a bush in the far corner of the garden, giggling and pointing at the approaching siblings. With only a look and a nod, Ginny took one side of the bush and Ron the other. Before they knew what happened, the unsuspecting gnomes went flying over the hedge marking the property line with surprising speed.
"That was pathetic, Ron. I beat your throw by at least ten feet," Ginny remarked. Ron didn't reply, but instead continued his hunt for more gnomes.
After a few minutes of silent working without another sighting, Ron was about to give up and move back to the house. Ginny called to him and he reluctantly turned back away from the Burrow. They met by the hedge where there was a small iron bench.
She sat down and motioned for him to join her. "Why don't we get this out in the open now, Ron? You aren't much help to me moping around the garden like that. There were three gnomes by the gate there," she said, pointing to the area. "You didn't even see them."
"Yeah," he answered lamely.
"So...are you going to tell me what the problem with Hermione is?"
Ron raised his head a little and looked up at his sister. "She's gone 'round the bend, Ginny, I swear." Ginny kept a blank expression on her face and motioned for him to continue.
"Well, we've been owling each other a bit over the summer, and it's all been normal until last night. She sends this letter and says things like, 'I can't go on like this' and 'If you can't apologize, I can't be your friend anymore.' What am I going to do?" he whined.
Ginny patted him on the back and let out her breath. "Ron, look at me."
He turned back to look at her and noticed she was trying to suppress a grin. "It's not funny, Ginny!"
"I know," she said, letting the smile form and then forcing her face back to neutrality. "What do you want from Hermione?"
"What do you mean, 'What do I want?' I don't want to lose her as a friend."
"I mean, what do you want her to do? Do you want her to keep arguing with you like nothing happened, or do you want the friendship to change?"
Ron considered this for a moment and then said, "I only argue with her because I can't think of anything else to say sometimes. At least when we argue, I know she's paying attention to me."
"Hm," Ginny sounded noncommittally. "So you argue with her to get her attention, but you don't know what to do to get her attention without arguing."
"I guess," he shrugged. "I just don't want to lose her friendship."
"Do you want me to tell you what to do?"
Ron whipped his head around to look at her. "Please? I'll do anything."
"Oh, Ron. It's too simple, but I'm afraid I can't be the one to tell you. Maybe Harry can help." Ginny leaned back and began absently picking at the loose paint covering the bench.
"Harry? He can't even go on one date without getting yelled at," Ron said knowingly. "Besides, I don't think he would understand."
"Understand that you like Hermione as more than a friend and can't work out how to tell her?" She cocked her eyebrows at him as she said this, as if daring him to refute her.
Ron thought fast. He couldn't afford to let anything loose now, so he thought of something to distract her. "Well, you're one to talk. What about you and Harry?" She immediately blushed and looked away, unable to keep eye contact. Taking this as a good sign, Ron pressed on. "How come you won't tell him how you feel?"
Turning back to look at him, she said, "I told you, Ron, I gave up on him ages ago." Ginny sounded convincing, but her eyes didn't quite meet Ron's.
"Whatever, Ginny. You can fool some people, but you can't fool me." He smirked in triumph.
"Listen, Ron. Harry doesn't think about me other than as your sister. How can I just walk up to him and confess my undying love?" she said with a hint of sarcasm.
"Well, maybe it's time to change how he sees you," Ron said thoughtfully.
"What do you mean?" she answered with a frightened look.
"Do you like Harry that way?" he asked pointedly.
Ginny's eyes darted around the yard, looking anywhere but Ron's face. "Yes," she said reluctantly.
"Then leave it up to me."
"Oh no you don't--" she said, grabbing his arms. "--I don't need you doing something stupid, all right? You'd probably set off a special Filibuster's Firework with 'Ginny Loves Harry' written in it. No thanks, but I've made enough of a fool out of myself already."
Ron laughed a little at her outburst, then said, "Okay, okay. I'll let you handle it, but you've got to do something about it this year. He probably thinks you've lost interest in him."
A look of panic flashed across her face. "Do you think so?"
Ron rubbed his chin in thought. "He hasn't said anything to me, but that's the impression that I got on the train home."
Ginny looked stricken, then crumpled in front of his eyes. "It doesn't matter, anyway. Why would I want to tell him how I feel if he isn't interested?"
"Ginny?" She looked up at him through her hair. "One thing I know for sure is that you deserve the best and I can't think of anyone better for you than Harry."
She threw herself onto Ron, grabbing him up in a huge hug. "Thank you, Ron," she whispered into his shoulder. "Thank you for helping me to not give up hope."
Ron chuckled and said, "Besides, a guy's got to look out for his best mate."
"Oh really?" she said, pulling back from the hug. "And I suppose you've been planning our happy love life for the past four years, then?"
"I'm not that thick," said Ron with mock solemnity. "You've been doing just fine until now."
Ginny guffawed and then with a glint in her eye, said, "So what are we going to do about you and Miss Granger?"
"I...er...was hoping you would forget about that," came his sheepish reply.
"Well, I know that you want more than a friendship with Hermione."
Putting on a shocked face again, Ron replied, "What are you talking about?"
"Don't be stupid, Ron. You fancy her!"
"What do you mean? I don't...She can't...It's not like that!" He finished inelegantly.
"Sure, Ron. When you're ready to face facts, I'll be sure to help you out. Until then, I've got to go finish an essay for Herbology." With that, she wiped her hands on her apron and walked purposefully back to the Burrow without a second glance back at him.
"Well, she was a load of help..." he muttered to himself as he chased down another gnome.
There was nothing more to it. He would simply have to get Harry to help him figure Hermione out. Ron was skeptical that his best friend would be able to help him out, but he didn't have much choice. Unless he wanted to face the teasing of the twins or a lecture-prone dad, it would have to be Harry.
Throwing the last of the gnomes into the field over the fence, Ron resolved to get Harry to help him out as soon as possible tonight. Hopefully he would have time before dinner.
A/N: This chapter brought to you by the letter, 'R'. Revision, Rachel, and riposte! Thanks to my pre-beta Lady_G for agreeing to work with me, despite her huge load. Props also go to my new beta Pooca, who is the only one able to knock this story in the right direction.