AN: I wrote this a few years ago for hp_canon_fest on LJ, as a gift to Zagury. It has since been edited.
Hermione looked at Ron and Harry, then her plate.
Then back at Ron and Harry again.
She could not believe she had lied for them. But they had come to her rescue; Hermione didn't like to think what might have happened had they not stopped the Troll. Nothing good, she knew that much.
Hermione also knew she was going to get rid of all her troll dolls; Maybe Parvati Patil would want them. She'd love them once Hermione told her it was a current Muggle trend.
Hermione got up from the table, put away her plate, and started to leave the Great Hall. After everything that had happened, she wasn't very hungry.
Ron was standing behind her shifting his feet.
"Hi," Hermione said awkwardly. It suddenly occurred to her that she'd never said "hi" to him before, at least not since the train. Most of their conversations had been unfriendly after that.
"You didn't have to cover for us," Ron said.
Hermione smiled. "Well, you did save my life."
"I'm sure you would've found a way out, though," Ron told her. "You're smart."
"And for what it's worth," he continued, "I'm sure you have many friends."
"Don't," Hermione said, rolling her eyes. "You needn't make apologies – what's done is done."
"I was just embarrassed," Ron said. "I didn't mean what I said."
"If it helps," Hermione began, "I probably should not have corrected you in front of everyone-"
"No," Ron agreed.
"I should have waited until we were in the Common Room," Hermione finished.
For some reason, Ron laughed.
It was late, and Hermione was nowhere to be seen.
"She's probably in the library, Ron," Harry said, yawning. "Studying as usual, I expect."
Ron nodded uncertainly, and as Harry headed to the dormitory, he walked out the portrait hole. Ever since Professor Binns gave the speech on the Founders, Ron had been concerned about Hermione. Not that he'd shown it – he didn't want to look like he was fussing. But he was worried; how could he not be? She was his best friend, next to Harry. He didn't know what he would do...
What Hogwarts really needs is something that locates people, Ron thought as he strolled down the corridors, looking into the classrooms every so often.
As it turned out, Hermione was in the library, using a book as a pillow. Classic Hermione. Ron sat next to his friend and shook her shoulder. "Hermione. Wake up."
"Hmm?" Hermione stammered as she moved sleepily.
"You're in the library."
Hermione's eyes opened. "Ron?"
"One of these days, all this studying is going to do you in," Ron said, shaking his head.
"No, I just got tired," Hermione said, rubbing her eyes.
Suddenly, she jumped up and grabbed her books. "Oh no, it's morning! I've missed my class!"
"Just a class on relaxation spells," Ron joked. "It's night-time, don't worry."
"I am, though," Hermione blurted.
She put her hand to her mouth, as though surprised and even a bit horrified at what she'd let slip out.
"Look, about the monster -" Ron began.
"I never said it was about that," Hermione snapped.
Ron gave her a look.
"It's just... I know everything we did last year worked," Hermione said, "but we could see the three headed dog and the Devil's Snare. We can't see this."
"Not yet," Ron reminded her. "We'll find it. And it will have to do me in before it gets to you."
"Don't say that," Hermione gasped.
"We'd better go," Ron added, looking at his watch, "before Pince -"
"What are you doing in the library at this time of night?"
Hermione had never before felt guilty about her excitement.
On one hand, she was thrilled. She would be seeing Hogsmeade for the first time in her life – she had heard about it, read about it, and technically the train stopped in Hogsmeade every year, but that was different from seeing it beyond the train tracks.
On the other hand...
"I feel like we just left Harry," Hermione told Ron.
"He'll be fine," Ron said, but Hermione could tell he was uneasy as well. "He won't like Butterbeer anyway."
"Or the historical attractions..."
"No, Harry really won't miss that part," Ron said.
"There's Quidditch history too, you know."
The carriage stopped, and Hermione looked at the town. It was lovely, with lots of small buildings and people bustling around. Most of the leaves had fallen from the trees, but the ones that remained were a crisp red and orange.
"Are you coming?" Ron asked.
Hermione followed him, and Ron reached out his hand.
Hermione took it, stepped out, and then paused.
Ron looked at his hand, his ears turned a little red, and pulled it away. Hermione knew her cheeks were a little red, too.
It must have been the cold.
Ron didn't know her well, let alone a thing about her, except that she was in Ravenclaw and while she and Parvati were not identical twins like Fred and George, they did share a striking resemblance.
He just knew he hadn't asked her.
"So I heard you're going with Padma."
"What?" Ron asked.
He and Hermione were in the Common Room with Harry, doing homework. Or at least Hermione was.
"Padma Patil," Hermione repeated. "Parvati's sister. She's excited, you know."
"Yeah," Ron said. "Er – me too. She's pretty. And nice," he added hastily.
"And that's all you ought to care about," Hermione said curtly.
"Who are you going with?" Ron asked.
Hermione sighed. "I've told you, it's none of your business."
"Yes, it is," Ron insisted.
"I don't even know why it should matter to you!" Hermione protested, shutting her book very quickly.
Ron couldn't think of a good reply. After all, he knew deep down it didn't really matter. Why would it? It couldn't be jealousy – there was nothing to be jealous of. They were just two best friends.
"And now," Hermione continued, gathering her things, "I've got somewhere to be." Hermione hurried towards the Portrait, and Ron could only stare after her.
Hermione thought she could have heard a quill feather drop. That happened a lot these days; a lot of noise followed by a lot of silence.
Death Eaters were outside the school doing unthinkable things, and their own government was inside the school doing horrendous things. And her best friend was in the middle of it all.
"The library's not going to help, you know," she told Ron, who sat next to her on the couch, also staring blankly at the common room fire.
"Does it worry you?" Ron asked.
Hermione would normally have denied the accusation, but this time, she nodded. "I'm so used to being able to crack open a book, and there the answer is, right in front of me. We managed to find a secret chamber using a book, for goodness sakes."
Ron edged closer to her, and Hermione realized that the closer he was, the better she felt.
But now was not the time to analyze her feelings.
"What we really need," Ron said, "is someone who can at least teach us what we're not learning from Umbridge. D'you think we could get Lupin back?"
Hermione smiled slightly. "I wish, but no..."
Their eyes suddenly met, and they both said, at the same time, "Harry."
"He would never go for it, though," Ron said. "Teaching us, that is."
"Well, then," Hermione began, "we'll have to make him."
Ron shook his head. "I don't know if we can."
"There's two of us, one of him," Hermione pointed out.
Ron sighed. "It's for everyone's own good, right?"
"Right," Hermione agreed.
"But you're telling him, not me."
For Ron's first birthday, he'd been given a teddy bear. For his fifth birthday, a toy broomstick. For his fourteenth birthday, Harry and Hermione bought him a Martin Miggs Special Edition. On Ron's seventeenth birthday, Ron had woken up to: "Hi mate, you've been poisoned."
"It wasn't in those words, Ron," Hermione said.
They were sitting in the Hospital Wing; Harry, Hermione and Ginny had made their daily visit, and for the first time since Ron had arrived, Hermione stayed. And for the first time, she was speaking more than a few sentences.
"It was!" Ron insisted. "I'm telling you, that's what Harry said."
"And that's what you've been telling Seamus and Dean and anyone else who'll listen?"
Ron knew those weren't the exact words; however, it did make a better story. And he was fairly sure that what Harry had said was still along those lines.
"Well," Hermione said, "I won't argue with you."
"That'll be a first," Ron blurted.
He wasn't sure where the sarcasm came from, but he could tell it surprised Hermione.
"I'm sorry," Ron said quickly.
"Me too," Hermione replied. "For... for everything, really."
Ron had known that sooner or later, they would have to talk about what had transpired between them. Too much had been said and done for them to not discuss it.
"I shouldn't have imitated you that one day," Ron told her.
"Yes, well, the birds were pretty cruel of me," Hermione said. "It's just... seeing you with her..."
"I know," Ron said. "I should've gone with you to Slughorn's party, too."
Hermione took a deep breath. "I need to tell you something, Ron. I've wanted to tell you this for a while now, and I -"
Hermione was cut off by Lavender walking into the hospital wing with Parvati, and Ron forced a smile as she literally threw herself at him.
When Lavender finally let go, Ron realized Hermione had left.
"What were you going to say?" He called, desperation suddenly filling him. He wanted to know... needed to know...
Lavender was frowning, visibly confused.
"I'm sorry," Ron told her, and he meant it.
Hermione sat on the bed, shaking and still slightly disoriented.
She could still feel the curse. Not the way she had, of course, but it still hurt, and she wasn't entirely sure how safe they were. She wasn't even sure she still had all of her limbs, though she must have or there would be blood.
"They're – not here, right?" Hermione asked as Ron put a coat over her.
The physical torture had been horrible, and there had also been the emotional torture: Hermione knew her screams could be heard, and she hated it. If it had been her choice, her best friend and her – whatever Ron was wouldn't have heard the entire thing.
"No," Ron said. "No one knows we're here but Bill and Fleur. Are you sure you're all right?"
He seemed to be trembling a little himself.
"We – we got out," Hermione said. "That's what matters."
Ron took her into his arms, and Hermione hated that she'd been waiting for this moment so long, and now couldn't even really enjoy it.
"I'm fine, don't worry," Hermione told him, knowing he would not believe her.
"If you're fine, you're mad," Ron said softly, stroking her arm.
"Maybe I am," Hermione replied.
She tried to say "I love you" or even "thank you," but began to cry instead.
When friends and family asked, "when did you know?" neither Ron nor Hermione knew how to answer.
Maybe it was when they held each other after being tortured, one by a curse, and the other by being forced to listen to it. Maybe it was watching a friend go through trials he did not deserve, needing someone to hold onto when they lost sight of him in the fire. Maybe it was the little things, both the hurt and the odd understanding. Maybe it was an accumulation of those things, moving through time and space quick as light, spinning a thread of friendship, passion, and true love.
Whatever the reason, Ron never doubted as to whether he should buy the ring in the window.
And Hermione knew, from the moment he began to kneel, that the answer was "yes."