A loud buzzing noise radiated from outside the ground floor, and a petite bushy-headed witch turned her head to the window in annoyance. Hermione's father was trimming the yard for the second time that summer, when he specifically knew she was trying to study. Irritated, she got up from her Arithmancy essay and walked over to the window. Pulling the lace curtains away from the window, she was surprised to see not her father, but the next door neighbor's son trimming the grass.
He was a tall boy, just under six feet, and was a year older than Hermione; cute, as far as boys went, but annoyingly crass and snobbish. Devon was the name that came to Hermione's mind although she honestly couldn't remember it. After a very rude run-in with him last summer, she had stayed carefully away from him. In fact, she considered, there were only two boys she cared to keep frequent company with and they were both a long ways off.
Hermione sat on her bed and leaned on the sill, staring out into the early morning sky. It was difficult to have boys for best friends, and she couldn't remember it being any other way. When they had first met, Harry had been unsure of himself and anxious to find his place in the Wizarding world. Ron had been a bit proud and very defensive about his family. She loved them both dearly and five years later, she was facing a difficult decision about them both.
While Harry wasn't quite as insecure about himself now, he still needed help understanding his role in the upcoming war with Voldemort. Hermione loved him as a brother and felt it her duty to watch out for him and to be there when he needed help.
Ron, on the other hand, was a totally different enigma and her love for him was of a completely different nature. But their problem was one that has plagued the sexes for all time. Communication.
Walking back to her desk, she shoved her essay aside and opened a small book that had been hollowed out on the inside. Extracting a pile of folded parchment, she picked up the topmost one and opened it up. It was the most recent letter she had received from him and Hermione had to force her heart to stop racing when her eyes scanned the now memorized lines.
A different feeling emerged within her as the reality of her situation came into the fore of her thoughts. This wasn't a game, but he was acting stupidly enough about it that it might as well have been. She traced his signature with a finger and bit back a small tear. For years, she had loved him and every time there came small a change in their relationship, he did something stupid like this. Hermione read the two sentences that kept jumping out at her.
I don't know what you're talking about, Hermione. We get along just fine, but then you start in on how I'm doing something wrong, or how I could be better if I only did it this way...I've already got a mother and don't need you to do the job.
The letter had infuriated her so badly that she wrote a scathing reply that now seemed a bit too harsh. She told him that if they couldn't stop bickering, she would have to end their friendship, and it terrified her to no end to even think about it. Deep down, she wondered if she had the courage to go through with it if push came to shove. Hopefully, she thought, it won't come to that. But honestly, does he need me to spell it out for him? The last thing she wanted was to drag anyone into a relationship. No, if Ron was that thick, then he would just have to wait.
Wiping away the small tears that had formed in the corner of her eyes, she folded the letter and placed it back in the letter holder, marked '1996', and moved her essay back to the middle of her desk. With fresh determination to get her work done by the end of the day and push all thoughts of Ronald Weasley from her mind, she cracked open her well worn Arithmancy book and plowed into Magical Vector Calculations and their Use in Building Spells.
Several hours and four rolls of parchment later, Crookshanks suddenly jumped into her lap and startled her out of her forced concentration. Hermione rubbed his ears absently and put her quill down. With a stretch, several of her vertebrae popped and it occurred to her that she should mind her posture more closely while studying. Crookshanks rubbed his head into her hand to remind her that he was being neglected.
"All right, all right," she said. "I suppose it's about time for a break."
She made to get up and the ginger cat jumped gracefully to the wood floor, leading the way downstairs.
Hermione's parents were in the kitchen making dinner. Her mother was always the one to set the table, while her father made the meals. Some of her uncles teased him about it, but he took it good naturedly, claiming that he enjoyed cooking after a hard day of fixing teeth. Hermione knew that her mother was just as happy with the arrangement, but it meant she had to clean up the dishes afterwards.
Without being told, she washed her hands and began helping her mother set out the plates.
"All done with homework, dear?" her mother asked.
"Not quite," she said airily, "But my little friend here decided that I was due for a break." Crookshanks was twirling in and out of Hermione's legs so skillfully that she could walk without worrying about stepping on the darting feline.
"Well, I should say so. You've been at it for hours." Her mum gave Hermione a look, clearly saying she wanted to chat with her after dinner. "If I know my daughter, then she's got something on her mind that wants to be forgotten, and schoolwork is always first on the list of distractions."
Rolling her eyes, more because her mum knew her too well than anything else, Hermione said, "Mum, I really do want to forget about it, so can we not discuss this, please?"
Giving her daughter an appraising glance, she replied, "Is it an 'it' or a 'he' that you want to forget?"
Turning a nice shade of pink that answered the question as plainly as anything she could have said, Hermione refused to speak or look at her mother and busied herself with setting the last of the silverware out on the table.
"Ahh," said her father. "And who's the lucky boy that's been taking up my daughter's precious brain power?"
"Dad!" cried an exasperated Hermione. "I don't want to talk about it!"
Seeing that she wasn't going to give in just yet, her parents decided to forgo an argument and tuck in to dinner. "Well, then we won't pry, but do come to us if you need to."
Hermione took a sip of tea, grateful that they wouldn't push the issue. "All right, Dad."
After dinner, Hermione sat on the sofa and relaxed with a book detailing the charms used on broomsticks. It really is quite fascinating, she mused to herself; she couldn't wait to tell Harry and Ron all about them. Just as the book was starting on the various Cushioning Charms used on the seat section, a rushing sound came from the fireplace and the head of Albus Dumbledore appeared in her fireplace.
"Professor Dumbledore?" she asked incredulously. Replacing her bookmark quickly, she put the book down and walked over to the fireplace. "What are you doing here?"
"Ah, Miss Granger. Most fortunate that you happened to be the one to greet me." His eyes were serious
Growing concerned, she reflexively shifted her stance and started asking questions. "Is there something the matter? Is it something with Harry?"
"There's nothing amiss, but this does have something to do with Harry. Would you call your parents for me, please?"
"Certainly." Hermione walked up the stairs and called her parents. They followed her back down to the living room and sat on the sofa so they could visit with the Professor.
"Hello, Headmaster. What brings you here?" asked Mrs. Granger.
"Well, Anne, I'd like to ask permission for your lovely daughter to spend a few nights at the Burrow with some fellow students." His eyes turned mischievous and Hermione wondered what was going on.
Looking to her daughter, and clearly pleased at the compliment, Mrs. Granger said, "We don't have a problem with it, if she doesn't mind. Is there a special occasion?"
Thoughts rushed into Hermione's brain as she struggled with the idea of going to the Burrow. On one hand, she would be able to be with Ron and possibly sort out what was going on between them. On the other hand, being with Ron always held the potential for fireworks, something that she desperately wanted to avoid.
"Ah, yes. It happens to be Mr. Potter's birthday tomorrow, and I think he would like to have another friend help him celebrate."
That's right! thought Hermione, Harry's birthday. Now she knew she had to go, if only to be there for Harry. And if she was lucky, she would be able to get Ginny alone for some girl talk. She needed to bend the ear of another female to try and figure out a way to sort the mess she'd made of her relationship with Ron.
"I'd love to go, Professor. When do I leave?"
"Anytime tonight or tomorrow, but I suggest before noon, as that is when the cake is rumored to be served. Molly makes a frightfully good chocolate cake, if I recall correctly."
Hermione thought of something and quickly said, "Professor? We don't have any Floo powder."
An arm reached out of the fire and handed her a small ceramic jar. "This should allow you a few trips. The Weasleys will be expecting you tonight or tomorrow morning, so anytime you are ready." With that, his head disappeared with a small pop.
Steeling herself for her inevitable meeting with Ron, she got up to start packing, but was stopped by her mother as she pulled her daughter into a hug. "Just remember that we're here for you...if you need to talk or...or anything."
Gripping her tightly, Hermione replied, "Thanks, Mum. I'll be fine. It'll be fine." With a final squeeze, they broke the embrace and Hermione made her way to get her things. I guess that essay will just have to wait.
Later that evening, Hermione appeared in the kitchen of the Burrow, with a smudged nose and a smile on her face. Crookshanks immediately leapt down and ran up the stairs. He did not like traveling by Floo. Molly Weasley was waiting for her at the table, knitting what looked like a scarf.
"Hello, dear," she said as she got up to give her a hug.
"Hello, Mrs. Weasley. Thank you for inviting me." Scanning the room quickly, she noticed how odd it was that there were no other Weasleys in the house.
Mrs. Weasley smiled warmly at Hermione, "It's no trouble, dear. I daresay that you being here will right a few wrongs."
Not wanting to decipher that cryptic statement just yet, Hermione asked, "Where is everyone?"
"Ron's in his room and Ginny and Harry are out under the oak tree in the garden." Mrs. Weasley beamed when she said this last bit.
"Ginny and Harry, huh?" Hermione asked with a smirk of her own.
"It's just wonderful," Mrs. Weasley said tearfully. "I'll get your things up in Ginny's room for you. There's tea in the kettle." Mrs. Weasley flicked her wand at Hermione's trunk and levitated it up the stairs.
"I guess I'll just wait here then," Hermione muttered to herself. But before she could even take a sip of tea, the back door opened and a slightly breathless Ginny appeared, followed by a red-faced Harry.
Grateful for friendly faces, she stood and waved at the redhead. "Hello, Ginny!"
"Hermione!" the younger girl said brightly. "When did you get here?"
They embraced each other and Hermione glimpsed Harry over Ginny's shoulder. His hands were in his pockets and he was staring awkwardly at the floor. "Just a few minutes ago. Were you expecting me?"
Blushing a bit, Ginny said, "Well, we were outside for a while, but I hadn't heard anything about it since we had tea."
Hermione approached Harry and gave him a hug. "It's good to see you, Harry."
Some of the strained atmosphere evaporated and he hugged her back. "I'm glad you're here, Hermione."
Nodding at Ginny, Hermione began, "So you and..." but she wasn't able to finish, as a wide-eyed Ginny grabbed her by the hand and pulled her to the stairs.
"No time for that, Hermione. I need to talk to you, now."
They barreled up the stairs and nearly ran over a slightly flustered Molly Weasley, who was returning from putting Hermione's things away. "Sorry," Hermione mouthed as they passed.
Arriving in Ginny's room, Hermione was thrust onto the bed while Ginny locked and soundproofed the door. "How..." she went to ask, but was again interrupted.
Ginny waved her arm. "The Ministry doesn't monitor the Burrow very well for underage magic, but we still have to be careful. Locking Charms and Silencing Spells are common enough to get by the sensors."
"Oh..." she said, trying to take that bit of information in. Hermione was about to ask why Ginny had hauled her up to her room, but Ginny launched into things full tilt.
"Hermione, do you remember what I told you after the Yule Ball, two years ago?" asked a clearly flustered Ginny.
Nodding her head, Hermione probed a little for confirmation, "You mean about Harry?"
"Yes!" Ginny knelt in front of her friend, skirt splaying around her on the floor. "I lied."
"You--you lied? About...Oh!" Comprehension dawned on her and a million questions flooded into her head. "What about Dean...and Michael?"
Ginny waved her hand dismissively. "My poor excuse at trying to forget about him."
"Then you and Harry are dating?" Hermione asked hopefully. If Harry was able to see the love the Ginny had been harboring for him all these years, then it gave her hope for her and Ron.
But Ginny's reaction did nothing to enforce this view. She dramatically plopped her head on the bed next to where Hermione was seated. "I wish!" Then picking her head up morosely, she looked at the brown-haired girl with wild eyes, "We were so close to kissing, Hermione! I was sitting on his lap!"
"Oh!" Hermione repeated lamely. "That must have been quite...frustrating."
"Yes, it was! Now what am I going to do? I practically threw myself on him and he got cold feet." Ginny flopped her head back on the bed in despair. "Our lips were this close together." She raised her hand to indicate the distance without lifting her head.
Another thought came to Hermione and she asked, "What brought all this on? I mean, you were quite convincing on the train ride home and everything. Even when Ron virtually told Harry he should ask you out, you didn't flinch."
"I know..." Ginny moaned into the bedclothes. Then turning her head to peek through her red hair, "Did you see him, Hermione? Have you taken a good look at Mr. Harry Potter tonight?"
Hermione thought back to the thirty or so seconds that she was downstairs with Harry before Ginny had whisked her up the stairs. He was taller, and seemed to be a bit embarrassed about something, but nothing else. "I noticed he'd grown a bit since we saw him at King's Cross."
Jumping up to pound on her pillow, Ginny said, "Ugh! Yes! Taller and more confident and charming..." She collapsed on the now lumpy pillow and sighed long and loud. "I had almost convinced myself that it was over. That I didn't really love him, that it was a phase and I would grow out of it. Then he has to get muscles and be so...so... understanding."
Trying not to interrupt such a good outpouring of emotion, Hermione decided to stay silent.
"I hate it when boys are understanding!"
Unable to restrain herself any longer, Hermione blurted, "It makes them irresistible, doesn't it?" She wasn't talking about Harry, but another boy that could magically turn the supportive switch on and melt her heart. The problem was that he switched it off too quickly before anything could happen.
"Yes!" Ginny said loudly and launched into how Percy sent the letter to her mum, and how she had run out into the garden a crying mess. About how Harry just happened to be there, right when she needed him, handsome and sympathetic. "It was just too much, Hermione. I had to kiss him and it took all my willpower to let him make the first move." Ginny sighed again. "Then he told me we should go back inside and tried to make it seem like we would get caught or something." She resumed moaning into her pillow.
A thought twigged in Hermione's mind and she realized that there was something different. "Ginny?"
Sitting up fully now, the younger girl answered, "What?"
"Maybe...maybe Harry is thinking about you now."
"Don't pander to my fantasies, Hermione," Ginny said sullenly.
"No, Ginny. I mean what if he really is starting to notice you?"
Wiping the hair from her face, Ginny sent a searching look at Hermione. "Do you think?"
"Look, you said that his excuse to come in was that he was afraid of getting caught, right?" Ginny nodded. "Well, he obviously was thinking about being caught with you, doing something that he didn't want to be caught doing. So that means he's at least thought about you that way."
Ginny's eyes flitted around the room as she considered Hermione's words.
"And when I saw you two come in just now," Hermione continued, "Harry wasn't exactly comfortable with what happened between you. And when a boy is uncomfortable around a girl, it means only one thing."
"What?" Ginny said breathlessly.
"He fancies you. Or at least, he's starting to. Or he doesn't know how to deal with you. Or he blames himself for something involved with you. Or...well...let's just say the list goes on."
"But what if he decides that I'm not good enough, or too plain, or...or doesn't like me because I'm Ron's little sister..."
Hermione grabbed Ginny's shoulders and looked her in the eye. "Ginny, listen to me. Harry would be a fool to think you weren't worth his time. Personally, I think he's just a little uncomfortable thinking about you that way. I mean, it took Ron four years to figure out that I'm a girl." Talking about Ron was painful, but it was worth it to help her friend. If Ron wasn't going to grow a backbone, at least she could help his sister be happy.
"Yeah, but what do I do?" Ginny asked, clearly frightened.
"You've got to keep being yourself, Ginny. If it were me, I'd not let on that you think he likes you. That way, he has fewer things to confuse him. Boys are easily confused, you know." Hermione was more talking to herself now than to Ginny. "Last year you said you were able to have whole conversations with him without stuttering. Keep it up, be his friend and make it obvious that you are available. When the time is right, he'll come to you."
"Are--are you sure?" Ginny asked probingly. "I've been waiting for him for an awfully long time, Hermione."
"Yes, Ginny. I'm sure. You've waited a long time, but you've never been waiting while he knows what's at stake. He'll come around, I promise."
Seeming calmed by this, Ginny was silent for a moment then turned to her friend. "What about you, Hermione?"
"Me? What about me?" she asked, slightly surprised at the turn in questioning.
"Yes. What are we going to do about that idiot I call my brother? He's been quite pathetic since he saw you last," Ginny said teasingly.
Hermione's heart quickened. "He has?"
"Why, just this morning, he couldn't stop talking about you. Apparently you sent him a rather shirty letter last night," Explained Ginny, waggling her eyebrows suggestively.
Coloring slightly at the mention of The Letter, Hermione said, "Ah...well... I might have overreacted a bit, I should have..."
"No! It was perfect. Whatever you said was just fine. He's tearing himself up about it and is desperate to make up with you." Ginny's eyes were twinkling in a way that suggested she knew more than she let on.
"Is that why he wasn't there to greet me?"
"Exactly. He's been sulking all day and is probably in his room ripping his hair out, right now." Ginny clapped her hands and squealed, "You've got him, Hermione. I can just feel it!"
"Yes, well, that's all you know," Hermione said dejectedly. "Things are a bit different from where I sit."
"Oh, bullocks! He's so in love with you, it isn't even funny. At least, he's figured out you're a girl and doesn't want to lose you. It's only a matter of time, now."
"Yeah," Hermione muttered, "Only a matter of time."
They both sat together on Ginny's bed, thinking about love not quite realized and sighed simultaneously. Looking at each other suddenly, they burst out giggling and Ginny fell off the bed in her mirth, which made them laugh even harder.
After the much needed laugh, Ginny said mockingly, "I don't think I've ever heard you giggle, Hermione. What would your parents think?"
"Oh, my Mum's heard a giggle or two from me, Ginny. It's the straight-laced Ravenclaws that would throw a wobbly."
With a guffaw Ginny said, "Well, enough about boys and school. Let's talk about clothes! And makeup!"
Ginny clutched her side in laughter again at the horrified look on Hermione's face, but deep down, Hermione knew that she liked to talk about clothes and makeup, just like any other girl. In fact, she had an impressive collection of Muggle makeup in her trunk right then, that her magically raised friend would love to see.
"All right, then," said Hermione quickly fishing through her trunk. "Let's see how you look in rouge."