That night, Ron came in from sitting second watch and lay down on the bottom bunk, bone-tired. And then he heard it, for the first time, he heard what Harry had been talking about. There was a low moan from the other side of the tent. The moan was followed by breathy little sounds that made him seriously consider casting a muffling charm around his bunk, but then the sounds changed from something decidedly erotic to something more distressing. She groaned and then started saying 'no,' at first softly and then louder, followed by a begging 'please.'
"Hermione," Ron ventured. She cried out and he popped up so quickly he banged his head on the upper bunk. He held his forehead but got to his feet. Harry was already coming back into the tent. By the time Ron had come out from behind the curtain, Hermione was standing in the middle of the sitting room, her wand up and clenched in her hand. She was wild-eyed and trembling all over.
"Hermione," Harry said soothingly. "Hey, Hermione, look at me." She glanced at him. "You're alright," he said. "How about lower your wand?"
Hermione glanced at Ron and a tear slid down her cheek.
"Sit down," Ron said. "I'll get you some cocoa."
Hermione took a seat on the sofa and pulled her knees up to her chin. When Ron came back with the hot chocolate, Harry was still standing there looking at her. "You want to talk about it?" he asked.
Hermione shook her head, still trembling.
Ron set the cocoa on the coffee table in front of her. "We'll just let this cool a bit." He looked at Harry.
"I should get back outside," Harry said.
"Yeah, alright." Ron pulled the throw off the back of the sofa and settled it over Hermione, hoping to stop the trembling, so she could hold the mug without spilling. She didn't say anything so he took the opposite corner of the sofa and just sat with her.
After what seemed like a long time, she put her knees down and reached for the cocoa. Ron had started to doze off, but her movements brought him fully awake again. He sat up straighter. She took a sip. "Thanks for this."
"Anytime," Ron said. "Feeling better?"
She nodded. "I'm sorry I woke you."
"You didn't," he said. "I'd just come in."
"Good," she said, but her cheeks colored. They sat in silence for a few more minutes while she finished her hot chocolate. "We should go back to bed," she said. "Neither of us has had enough sleep."
Ron smiled. "Right. Good idea." They stood and went to their separate bunks. Ron sighed. She'd said, we should go back to bed, as if they were going to the same bed. He wished they were. His bunk was cold and even though he'd cast a warming charm on his sleeping bag, it would be so much better to be snuggled up next to her for warmth. He wanted desperately to run his hand along that strip of skin above her pajama bottoms. He wanted to see her topless like the page three lady. He sighed again. She was only just starting to speak to him, and even so, it wasn't much, nothing like the long conversations they used to have, nothing like the playful banter they'd engaged in at the end of sixth year. He thought of her dancing with Krum at Bill and Fleur's wedding, how easily they'd moved together. He grimaced at his own clumsy dancing, although she hadn't complained. When this war was over, he was going to learn to dance properly. Fred and George were good dancers. They could probably teach him some moves. He lay down, trying not to remember the way she'd felt in his arms at the wedding, but it was pointless, as virtually every time he'd ever touched her ran through his mind on an endless loop, interspersed with all the ways he'd like to touch her in the future, if they could ever get back to where they were before that bloody locket and his own insecurities had wrecked everything.
The next day, Harry was reading The Daily Mirror and laughed.
"What?" Hermione said, looking up from the large Times crossword.
"Oh, nothing, it's a stupid dating quiz," Harry said.
Ron snorted, "Like any of us would have much to say."
Hermione arched an eyebrow at him. "You presume a lot."
"What?" Ron said, looking at her. "Harry dated Cho for like ten minutes and then Ginny last year. I dated Lavender and that was horrible. And you dated Krum three years ago."
Hermione got to her feet. "You'd do well to remember, Ron, I live in two worlds and you only know about one of them." She stormed out of the tent.
Ron looked agape at Harry. "What's she saying? She dates Muggles over hols?"
Harry raised his eyebrows.
"No, she doesn't," Ron scoffed. "Why would she? A witch as powerful as her, no way."
Harry shrugged. "Why not?"
Ron shook his head. "What could they possibly have in common?"
Harry scoffed. "What did you and Lavender have in common? It's not always about that, is it? Hermione can be quite lush when she wants. It's not hard to see why a bloke would chat her up. McLaggen did."
Ron's mouth dropped open. He shook his head. "I forgot about him. Maybe he was who she was talking about and not Muggles at all."
"If you say so," Harry said and resumed reading.
Ron sat quietly for a while, but he couldn't stop thinking about the possibility that Hermione dated Muggles when she was at home. "How many Muggles do you suppose she's gone out with?"
Harry looked up from his paper. "How would I know? You'd have to ask her. Not that I would recommend that," he amended.
"No," Ron agreed. "I can't do that." They sat in silence for a minute before Ron said, "I've heard Muggle girls are quite fast. Do you think that's true?"
"Are you asking if I think Hermione is fast?" Harry said.
"No!" Ron said. "Absolutely not. I'm just asking if what I heard was true."
Harry snorted. "Again, how would I know? I've never dated a Muggle girl, but I suspect they're a lot like witches. Some of them are fast and some of them are slow. Come to think of it, blokes are like that too."
"Right," Ron said. "Right."
"What's got into you tonight?" Harry said.
Ron sighed as he stared at the tent flap as if he could see Hermione through the canvas. "I just…hate this bloody war."
Rain started to patter against the canvas.
"Oh, great," Harry said sarcastically. "Just what we need, more rain."
Ron continued looking at the tent flap, waiting for Hermione to reappear, but she didn't. "Where is she?" he said, getting to his feet. The rain began falling harder. "Why hasn't she come back in?" He stuck his head out of the tent flap. Hermione was standing at the edge of their magical wards with her arms wrapped around her. She hadn't bothered to cast an umbrella charm. She was getting soaked. He was walking toward her before he knew what he was going to say. He settled on, "What are you doing?" as he came up behind her.
"Nothing," she said. "Go back inside. I'll be in in a minute."
He could hear in her voice that she'd been crying, but he couldn't sort out why. "But it's pissing down out here."
"Then you should get inside," she growled.
"Hermione," he went to touch her shoulder but she flinched away from him.
"Don't," she said. "Don't touch me."
"I'm sorry," he said, not fully understanding why she was so upset but positive that it was his fault. "I'm really, really sorry."
This time she did turn around and the agony in her face broke his heart. "Then just go inside, please," she said, and walked away from him to the back of the tent.
He stood watching her walk until she disappeared behind the pitched canvas roof. Part of him felt like he should stand out here as long as she did, to show penitence, or solidarity, something, but then he decided to just do as she'd asked. He figured she'd prefer that.
When Ron stepped back into the tent, Harry looked up at him. "Where's Hermione?"
"She's not ready to come in yet," Ron said, peeling off his wet jumper and pulling out his wand to cast a drying charm.
"Please don't tell me you went out there and rowed with her," Harry said with a sigh.
"Of course, I didn't. I'm not completely mad. But she is crying and I don't rightly know why, but I know it's my fault. What did I say?"
Harry shrugged, and scratched at the stubble on his cheek. Ron noticed Harry's beard was a lot thicker than it used to be. "Maybe it was the dating thing."
"Well, yeah, obviously but what did I say that was wrong?"
Harry shook his head. "I'm not sure. Maybe she just didn't like that you assumed you knew everyone she'd ever gone out with."
"That bothered her enough to make her stand in the rain crying?" Ron said, dumbfounded. "That doesn't sound like her."
Harry sighed. "I told you, she's been different since you left. Not quite as confident. You probably just hurt her feelings."
"How? Just because I didn't know she'd dated other blokes, how is that that hurtful?"
Harry shrugged. "Maybe she thinks you don't think she rates a date."
Ron's mouth dropped open. "That's mad. She can't think that." He looked at the tent flap. "She's…I mean…she's just…well, as you said, she's quite…oh bollocks."
"Did that make sense in your head?" Harry asked. "Because nothing that actually came out of your mouth made sense."
Ron looked at the tent flap again. "How am I supposed to fix this?"
"I don't know, mate. We might not even have the right cause. Perhaps she's just crying because she misses her parents and talking about things that happened over hols reminded her of them."
Ron shook his head. "You didn't see her out there. This is definitely something to do with me."
"Is there anything for lunch?" Harry asked, clearly trying to change the subject.
"Leftover beans, I'll go heat them up." Ron said, still staring at the tent flap.
"I can do it," Harry said.
"Nah," Ron said. "I need something to do anyway." He went into the kitchen and put the leftover beans on the stove and lit it. Then he peeled and chopped one of the fresh onions. "I hate this weather," he said. "Fishing is no good. Rabbits stay in their warrens and you can't see ducks."
"Yeah," Harry said. "There's pretty much nothing good about it." He set the table with plates and then filled three tumblers with water from his wand.
Ron stirred the beans and put a bowl of chopped onions in the center of the table. "You want to go tell her lunch is ready?" he asked Harry.
But the tent flap opened and Hermione stepped inside, looking very much like someone had tried to drown her.
"Drying charm?" Harry asked.
"I think I'm beyond that," she said. "I'm just going to go change."
Ron tried not to imagine what was going on behind her curtain as he could hear wet clothes hit the floor. He stirred the beans again. "Bloody hell," he muttered under his breath.
Harry gave him a sympathetic look as he took a seat.
Ron set the pot of beans on the table and sat across from Harry. "Soups on," he said to Hermione's curtain.
She came out a moment later and sat down. She was in jeans, and a blue plaid flannel shirt. She'd clearly done a drying charm on her hair, but it was still damp. She sniffed her sleeve. "I wish this bloody rain would stop," she said. "We need to do proper laundry. All our clothes are way past cleaning charms. I feel like everything is starting to be a bit musty like mold."
Ron was still trying to recover from her cursing.
Harry put a ladle full of beans on his plate. "Yeah, I've noticed that as well. Not much we can do about the weather though."