Three days later, Ron found himself nursing a Butterbeer in the Leaky Cauldron, waiting for Hermione to take him shopping for proper Muggle clothes. His mum and dad had been ecstatic when he told them about the wedding, albeit for totally different reasons.
Molly Weasley had a special place in her heart for Hermione; anyone who could get the notoriously lazy Ron to study was worthy of considerable respect, in Molly’s opinion. Ron suspected that his mother had her eye on Hermione as a potential daughter-in-law as well.
Arthur Weasley, on the other hand, would have been thrilled about it regardless of the company Ron was to keep; Muggles had always fascinated the Weasley patriarch. In fact, Ron was told in no uncertain terms by Molly to keep the time and location of the wedding and any prerequisite shopping trips secret from his father, so as not to encourage him to tag along uninvited.
For the tenth time that morning, Ron’s mind flashed through a dozen disastrous scenarios that could happen during the upcoming weekend. Harry and Ginny’s reaction to Hermione’s request had only served to increase his trepidation. He took a deep swig from his bottle and tried to shove thoughts of accidental magic and Hermione’s shocked relatives and disappointed face from his mind.
The door on the London side of the Leaky Cauldron creaked open, and the low rumble of traffic from the street beyond danced across the bar. Ron turned to find Hermione sweeping a long navy traveling cloak from her shoulders as she crossed the room.
“I never really noticed the chill in the air here until I moved to Egypt,” she said, taking a seat next to him at the bar. She hugged him briefly, setting her cloak across the bartop. “Have you been here long?”
“No,” replied Ron. “I only just popped over myself.”
She beamed at him. He noticed that she was wearing a wool jumper, which while it looked very pretty on her, was a bit heavy for the current season. He had to agree that living in the desert for so long would make the English air feel just a bit chillier.
Hermione ordered a Butterbeer from Tom, the toothless old barman. Ron watched her interact with Tom, and for the first time he saw a difference in her behaviour since their Hogwarts days. Rather than the slightly bossy girl who tried to know everything, he saw a confident, gracious woman who could make even old Tom feel welcome and interesting. He watched her laugh at a joke from Tom, and couldn’t help but grin along.
“Shall we be off?” she asked, turning back to Ron.
“If you like,” he replied, rising from his chair. He gathered her cloak from the counter as she handed Tom a few coins, and draped the cloak across her shoulders.
“Thank you,” she said. Ron smiled at her.
They made their way out of the Leaky Cauldron, and Ron was immediately struck by the bustle of the London streets. Cars, buses, and lorries rushed past them, rustling their cloaks. Voices and sounds seemed to echo from the street itself. Hermione began steering Ron up the street, and he gaped at the sheer volume of activity around him.
Eventually, they made their way to Harrods, although Hermione had to physically drag Ron most of the way. He stood gawking for nearly two full minutes at a multi-storey car park before Hermione noticed that he’d fallen behind. The ride on the Underground was an adventure in itself, as Ron wanted to stop every few feet to examine the sights. She couldn’t help but laugh at his child-like fascination with everything from the guards to the trains to the ticket collectors.
They made their way through Harrods, which was far less interesting to Ron. After all, racks of clothes were racks of clothes anywhere. Hermione perused rows of brightly colored shirts, pulling out several and thrusting them at Ron.
“Why are you giving these to me?” he asked.
“You have to try them on,” she said distractedly, fishing through a throng of lavender button-downs.
“What, you mean put the clothes on? Here?”
Hermione looked up at him and rolled her eyes. “That’s how you find out what to buy, Ron. Proper sizes and colors and all that.”
Ron narrowed his eyes. “I’ve never had to try clothes on in a store in my life. Why can’t we just buy them now, and transfigure them if we need to?”
“Because, Ron,” Hermione explained, very patiently, “Muggle clothes aren’t made like the ones you buy in Diagon Alley. Those clothes are designed to be altered. These are all made in different sizes.”
“Why on earth is that?” said Ron. “Wouldn’t it be easier to make the clothes all the same size, and let people adjust the sizes on their own?”
“If Muggles could point a wand and alter a garment, I suppose it would,” said Hermione. “But they can’t. They’d have to pull all the stitches out, and then measure everything, and then re-sew it. And if they made all the clothes the same size, a tiny person would be carrying around loads of extra fabric, wouldn’t they?” She’d moved on from shirts and was digging though shelves of trousers. “What do you think? Too short?” She held up a black pair for a moment. “Yes, too short. Must find something longer.”
Ron watched her warily. “So you want me to try these on?”
“Well, you can wait for the trousers if you like,” Hermione answered, her voice trailing off as she wandered in the direction of a sign marked ‘Tall.’
Ron sighed, and set the pile of shirts down on a nearby table. He removed his hip-length day cloak, and was about to pull off his jumper when Hermione rushed over.
“What on earth are you doing?” she hissed.
“You told me to try these on,” he said defensively. “I can’t very well do that over my cloak and sweater, can I?”
To his utter amazement, she burst into laughter. “Oh, Ron,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes, “there are rooms here called Changing Rooms, where you try clothes on. I didn’t mean in the middle of the store.”
Ron’s face began to colour. “You didn’t tell me that.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” she said, her smile fading. “I just didn’t realise that you’ve never been to try on clothes before.” She looked around, and spotted a shop assistant wandering around a nearby table. “Let me go and get you a room, so you can try these on properly.”
She walked off, and Ron wanted to bang his head against the wall in frustration. Why had he agreed to do this? He couldn’t even shop for clothes without making a huge error. How on earth was he supposed to make it through an entire day?
Eventually, Hermione settled Ron into a changing room. He was not happy about having to put on these clothes and parade in front of her, but she kept telling him that the sooner he selected an appropriate outfit, the sooner they could leave. He decided quickly on a pair of well-cut black trousers. He hadn’t expected the Muggle trousers to be as comfortable as the ones he wore to the office, but was pleasantly surprised at the soft fabric and clean fit. He tried on shirt after shirt, watching Hermione turn down nearly everything she’d selected. Finally, she approved of a shirt in deep blue, with a green and blue necktie. They gathered the garments and brought them to the assistant, who totalled their purchases. Ron moved to pay for the clothes, but stopped rather suddenly when he realised that he hadn’t changed any of his Galleons into Muggle money.
Hermione paid for the clothes, and led him out of the shop. They made their way back to the Leaky Cauldron, and stepped inside for a quick dinner. Hermione noticed that Ron was being uncharacteristically quiet, speaking only to order his food.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
He sighed. She looked so worried. He hated to disappoint her, and was afraid that the whole affair would turn out to be a gigantic disaster.
“Are you sure you want me to do this?” he asked her. “I mean, I’d understand if you want to cancel, because I made a complete prat of myself today. And that was only buying clothes.” He sighed again. “I just don’t want to embarrass you in front of your family, you know?
Hermione reached across the table and took his hand. “Look, Ron, I wouldn’t have asked you to do this if I didn’t think you could. I know it seems like we’re just asking for trouble, but I know you can do this. And it’s just for one day. Please?”
Ron sighed again. “If you weren’t such a good friend, I’d never have agreed to do this, you know?”
She smiled. “Oh, come on. You make it sound like I’m going to be pulling your ears off or something. You get to spend the day in my sparkling company. How bad could it possibly be?”
He grinned in spite of himself. “Famous last words.”