Warnings: fluff, drama, humor, some dark themes, minor character death
Length: 7,624 words
Summary: When Ron can't see the exterior, he falls in love with what's inside.
Author notes: Other pairings include Harry/Tonks, Harry/Hermione in past, Ron/Hermione in past.
Thanks to tqpannie for the reassurance and shocolate for the beta. Thanks also to the mods for the entire idea and for inviting me. And, last but not least, my fellow teammates!
Ron opened his eyes. At least thought he opened his eyes. Everything was black. Odd, melodic tones sounded in the background. Reaching up, he tried to touch his face only to encounter bandages on his hands and, he thought, his face.
"Mr. Weasley, don't do that," a woman's voice admonished.
He let his hands fall, turning toward the voice. It was melodious enough to catch his attention, swotty enough to remind him of Hermione, all with enough maternal-like chastisement to make him feel like a child again. He was confused enough by the situation that he didn't protest.
"Mr. Weasley, please leave the bandages alone," she continued. Her voice was closer. He could tell by the change in tones that she was adjusting the monitors. Her scent, a touch floral mixed with the smell of the beach, washed over him. He was intrigued.
"What happened?" he asked. His voice sounded raw to his ears.
"What do you remember?" she countered. Her hands were gentle as she adjusted his bandages.
He closed his eyes, or thought he did, and cast his mind back. Truthfully, what he remembered was shadowed by confusion.
Misunderstanding his silence, she said, "I'll fetch your Healer."
He wanted to reach out to her, to hold her next to him, to keep something close in the confusing darkness. Instead, he simply said, "Then you'll return?"
There seemed to be an unnaturally long pause before she replied, "Yes, I will."
While Ron awaited her return, every sound seemed preternaturally loud: he swore he could hear the scuff of shoes on the floor outside his room, for example. He wished he could cover his ears but, with the bandages, he wasn't sure if he'd be doing more harm than good with the gesture.
He waited. He was not normally a patient man, the exception being when he played chess, but the situation he found himself in was completely beyond his control, leaving him no choice. Something had happened to him, something that required bandages over at least his face and hands, possibly more. He couldn't yet recall what had happened, but had faith he'd remember soon.
"Mr. Weasley, I was told you're awake," a jocular male voice said.
Ron turned toward the voice. "Yes, I am."
"Good, good," the man said. A humming sound hovered over him, changing in pitch from high to low to high again, coinciding with a slight tingle that traveled from his head to knees to head again.
Diagnostic charms, Ron thought.
"Well, Mr. Weasley, you seem to be healing," the Healer said.
"Why am I here?"
There was a long pause. "You've had an accident."
Had he been able to, Ron would have rolled his eyes at the answer. He'd figured that much out by himself.
"You were with Mr. Potter and Ms. Granger –" the Healer continued, only to be interrupted.
"Are they okay?" Ron demanded. He could handle being injured, but not if they were hurt more severely.
"They're fine, Mr. Weasley," the Healer answered. "They're not able to visit you yet due to your own injuries." A pause, a shuffling sound, a cough. "As I began to say, you were with Mr. Potter and Ms. Granger when there was an accident. As they described it, you were holding something that burst into flame. It was charmed so you were unable to release it until Mr. Potter Stupefied you and destroyed the object."
The Healer fell silent. Ron shifted nervously. He had vague memories of what was being described, but not a full recollection. Given what they'd been doing at the time, he guessed he'd been injured by a Horcrux.
"And?" Ron prompted, becoming annoyed he should have to drag a diagnosis from the healer.
"You were severely burned, Mr. Weasley. Your hands, forearms, face, neck and some of your chest suffered great trauma. You're in a modified burn ward." Though the news was delivered clinically, Ron could hear the pity in the healer's voice.
"And that means what?"
Another silence, then, "Your prognosis is guarded but good. We have to keep you bandaged until your skin is regrown, which will take about a week. Between now and then, we'll be weaning you off painkilling potions to make sure the nerve endings regenerate property."
"Visitors?" Ron asked in a tight voice. He could do this but it would be so much easier with Harry and Hermione there.
"No visitors until the bandages come off," the healer answered. "I'll be back to see you later." With that, Ron heard a shuffle of feet he assumed was the healer leaving.
He wasn't alone, though. That lightly floral scent teased him – obviously the inside of his nose hadn't been burnt.
"Who are you?" Ron demanded.
"Your nurse," she replied.
"You aren't going to tell me your name?"
He heard a short laugh. "No."
"What should I call you?"
She laughed again. "Madam Smith will do." With that, she left the room. He heard the door close behind her and sighed.
He never enjoyed being left alone with his thoughts. Thinking Deep Thoughts was for Hermione to do just as thinking morbid ones was for Harry. Now that he was alone, it forced him to either think or sleep. Since he'd just woken up, sleep was out of the question.
He was sure the Horcrux had landed him at St. Mungo's. It had been the penultimate Horcrux, a box that had belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw, and had eluded them for more than a year. Ron would have rolled his eyes if it hadn't hurt so much when he'd tried earlier. The Horcrux hunt had taken them three years – much longer than any of them expected. They were finally down to the final Horcrux, providing Harry and Hermione's theory about Nagini was correct. If it was, Harry was welcome to destroy the bitch of a snake since Ron wasn't going near her.
He sighed and attempted to roll onto his side. The motion caused pain to shoot up his arm and through his face, forcing his breath from between gritted teeth.
The thought of calling for Madam Smith – if that was her real name – crossed his mind, but he rejected it. He didn't want a pain potion or more of her teasing.
He stopped short at that. Teasing? She hadn't done anything. Was he so desperate for female company that even a bit of anything from a woman made him horny?
Yes, probably, he thought. It had been nearly a year since he's had sex and that was a one-off in some nameless town in Albania. Six months before that, he and Hermione had broken up. Harry and Hermione lasted about a week until Tonks tripped over Harry in a pub somewhere in Germany. Hearing Tonks and Harry through the thin tent partition for the last year was driving him mad, hence the dodgy bar in Albania.
That brought him back to his original thought: was he so desperate that any bit of affection was misinterpreted?
The only way to find out would be to talk to Madam Smith. He relaxed and plotted as he fell asleep.
"Time to wake up, Mr. Weasley," a feminine voice called.
He smiled as he awoke. She sounded good this morning.
"Are you going to tell me your first name?" he asked after swallowing the first potion of the morning.
"No," she replied sharply. Another potion was pressed to his lips. "I would thank you to stop asking."
He grinned. "Then don't thank me." She made an annoyed noise as he swallowed the second potion.
"You're going to try my patience, aren't you?" she finally asked after she fed him the third potion. He said nothing, merely smiled. She sighed. "They warned me about you."
"The other nurses. They warned me about you from school."
Had he been able to, he would have raised his eyebrows. "Did we go to school together?"
The silence stretched so long that he began to wonder if she didn't hear him. When she answered, her voice was tight.
"Yes, but we didn't know each other well."
He pressed the point. "Well? So I do know who you are? Were you in my year?"
The silence was even longer after those questions. She fed him his last morning potion before answering.
"Yes, we were in the same year, but I'm not a Gryffindor."
That didn't narrow it down much, to his disappointment.
"I'll figure out who you are," he commented.
Her laugh was more of a sarcastic bark. "I doubt it." With that, she gathered the potion bottles – he heard the glass rattle together – and left the room.
Ron Weasley was a strategist. It was part of what made him good at chess. He gathered his information, precious little though it was: one, she was in his year at school; two, she wasn't a Gryffindor, but he'd already known she wasn't Lavender or Parvati; three, she wasn't Padma, either; and four, the way she'd said Gryffindor hinted at disdain for his house, implying she'd been in Slytherin or, possibly, Ravenclaw. He ruled out Hufflepuff since he'd known most of the girls in that house through the D.A. and she didn't sound like any of them – too sarcastic, for one.
He would figure it out. It's not as if he had anything else to do.
He smiled to himself, humming.
"I'm here to check on you, Mr. Weasley," the same jocular male voice as the day before said.
Ron said nothing. He had no say in the matter so why bother to comment.
The hum of diagnostic charms sounded above him, varying by location on his body, and little changed from the day before.
"You're healing well," the healer said, canceling the charms as he did so.
"What's your name?" Ron asked bluntly. In his mental wanderings, he realized he'd never been told his healer's name.
The man chuckled. "Healer Winston." Ron heard a shuffling noise, then the healer's voice from his other side. "As I said, you're healing well. Better than I expected, actually."
"What does that mean?"
Healer Winston sighed. "Your burns were both magical and Muggle. If they'd been strictly Muggle, there wouldn't have been a problem healing you. However, the magical burns created some difficulties." There was a pause, then a change in his tone of voice akin to a narrowing of his eyes. "I don't suppose you're going to tell me what it was that caused the burns."
Ron shrugged. No way in hell would he tell the healer he'd been holding one of Voldemort's Horcruxes and it'd blown up in his hands when Harry was ready to destroy it. Even if it would help the healer heal him, he wouldn't divulge that information.
"Thought not," the healer sighed after Ron's protracted silence. "I'll be back to see you tomorrow."
His bedside manner is worse than mine, Ron mused. Nearly two years ago, both Harry and Hermione had caught Wizard's pox, something he'd had as a child. They'd both been too sick for three weeks to complain about his bedside manner. Hermione later told him the illness was a lot like the Muggle chicken pox – but only laughed when Ron asked where the chickens came from to make everyone sick. It wasn't an unreasonable question. Harry later told him the disease had nothing to do with chickens.
He chalked the whole thing up to Muggles being very odd.
It didn't take long for Ron to realize he was bored out of his mind. He didn't like being still for so long unless it was to get out of doing something unpleasant.
The creak of the door startled him. Turning toward the sound, he caught that now-familiar floral scent.
"Are you married?" he asked when the door closed.
"Mr. Weasley, that's terribly personal," she chastised but amusement laced her tone.
"Yes, it is," he admitted before swallowing the first of his midday potions. "The only Smith in our year was Zacharias in Hufflepuff." He grinned. "I may not be able to see, but I know you aren't Zacharias."
"How do you know?" she retorted, stifling his gasp with his second potion. "I could have changed my sex."
The idea was so alien to Ron that he said nothing further. Madam Smith laughed softly on her way out the door, leaving Ron to ponder her – his? – words.
"No bloody way," he muttered to himself. Zacharias Smith had been a bleeding bastard at Hogwarts. Changing his sex wouldn't change that, meaning Madam Smith was either lying about her name, lying about her year in school, or lying about going to Hogwarts.
Once he narrowed that down, one thing stuck in Ron's mind: why the bloody hell would a man want to be a woman?
"You did that on purpose," Ron said in a low voice the next morning when the door opened and issued in that floral scent.
"Mmm, did I?" she replied noncommittally.
"Were you really in my year?"
She fed him one potion before replying. "Yes."
"How are Harry and Hermione?"
She sighed. "Mr. Potter and Ms. Granger are eagerly awaiting the release of the ban on your visitors."
He grinned. "Bothering the staff?"
"Tell me about something that happened while we were there, then."
She fed him a second potion, this one different than the others he'd taken while in St. Mungo's. This one reminded him of Polyjuice Potion and made him want to scrape his tongue after swallowing.
"Your dress robes for the Yule Ball were hideous," she finally answered as she gathered the empty potion bottles.
He winced once at the memory, then again at the pain in his face with the motion. She would have to remember that of all things.
"Anyone in my year or above would know that," he retorted.
She paused in her movements, the clatter of bottles and shuffle of feet ceasing. Her tone was exasperated and weary when she asked, "What do you want from me, Mr. Weasley?"
"I want to know who you are," he answered immediately, surprised to find it true.
She intrigued him, somewhat because he couldn't see her but, more importantly, because she didn't seem impressed by who he was. More often than not, birds latched onto him for who Harry was and, as one of Harry's best friends, he was in that rarified orbit. He generally enjoyed those girls for a night, but didn't keep them around.
Madam Smith wasn't impressed by Harry, or by Ron himself for that matter. If anything, she was disdainful of the company he kept.
"You were in Slytherin, weren't you?" Ron blurted.
She gasped tellingly. Ron smiled.
"Good day, Mr. Weasley," she hissed before leaving his room, the clatter of glass marking her exit.
"I hope you aren't Pansy Parkinson," he muttered to himself, still smiling.
Healer Winston visited before dinner. He was pleased with Ron's progress, updated his potions and reported that Ron's bandages would be removed in two days. He could, therefore, have visitors in three days.
Ron made it a mission to discover who Madam Smith was sometime in the next two days. With nothing else to do, she'd become his obsession.
Madam Smith had the next day off, to Ron's disappointment. His nurse that day smelled old, reminding him of his Great Aunt Tessie. Then he smiled, possibly for the first time, at the association with his horrid dress robes. The mysterious Madam Smith would be amused as well.
Healer Winston examined him late in the day. He pronounced Ron still healing remarkably well and took him off one of his painkilling potions. As a result, Ron spent the remainder of the evening with his face, chest and hands aching. The pain abated only after taking his sleeping potion.
"Mr. Weasley." The voice was pleasantly feminine and fit right into the fantastic dream he was having. "Mr. Weasley, it's time for your potion." No, that wasn't right. There were no potions in his dream. "Mr. Weasley." The voice was firm now, finally pulling him from sleep.
He groaned in pain. Fire licked along the nerves in his arms and chest.
"Mr. Weasley?" Madam Smith asked tentatively.
He licked his lips. "Hurts," he rasped.
The pain to this point had been well-masked by the painkilling potion, even though the dosage had been reduced throughout the week. Without the painkiller, the healing skin both itched like mad and ached like a half-strength Cruciatus.
"Can I get stronger stuff?" he asked, voice creaky.
"No," Madam Smith retorted sharply. She held the bottle to his lips, forcing him to swallow. "Your burns have to heal naturally now."
"Buggering hell," he hissed.
"Mr. Weasley," she chided, amused.
He heard the clatter of bottles once again and knew she'd be leaving the room soon. He reached out for her, causing pain to flare up his arm at the contact.
"Stay," he rasped. "Please."
"Mr. Weasley, you have to rest," she protested.
He tried to grip her arm but only succeeded in causing himself blinding pain. As a result, he released her and drew his arm back.
"I've done nothing but rest," he spat. All he'd been able to do is rest and think. "I want to talk to you."
He tone was cold and suspicious. "Why?"
"You intrigue me, Madam Smith," he admitted. Then he grinned. "I want to get to know you."
Her tone didn't change. "Even though I was in Slytherin?"
A laugh escaped him, devolving into pained groans as his skin was stretched. "No one's perfect."
There was a long pause before she answered. "You're mad, you know."
"Yes, that's what I've been told," he admitted. "Will you stay?"
"I can't stay," she said. "But I can come back."
He smiled, ignoring the pain in his face. "That's good. I can wait."
He swore he heard her make an amused noise, but she said nothing further. The door opened and closed but it didn't sound as final this time.
While he awaited her return, he amused himself by running through all the Slytherins of his year that he knew, by pondering how exactly Ravenclaw's Horcrux had caught fire, and by wondering what Harry and Hermione would say once they could visit. It did occur to him to wonder if he was losing his mind due to the enforced solitary healing, but then decided it didn't matter – if he had lost his mind he shouldn't care, and if he hadn't he'd know soon enough.
He really hoped Madam Smith wasn't Pansy Parkinson.
It was after dinner when Madam Smith returned to sit with him. He knew she hadn't returned in her professional capacity because the sound of her footfalls had changed. No longer did he hear the sturdy sound of something like trainers; now he heard a faint click-tap with each step indicating a dressier shoe.
Ron was amused with himself for noticing.
He heard a chair squeak and knew she'd sat down. Suddenly nervous, he froze for something to say.
"You have me here now, Mr. Weasley," she said curtly.
He smiled to himself. She had to have some interest in him for her to return on her own time, no matter how chilly she might sound about it.
"How long have you worked at St. Mungo's?"
She shifted in her chair, making the leather creak. "Two years."
When she said nothing further, he had to stifle a smile. He'd thought it would be difficult to get her to talk, but he'd underestimated her reticence.
"Did you apprentice for part of that time?"
It was all he could do not to laugh. He was not surprised by her reluctance – after all, Slytherins weren't known for their loquaciousness unless it was self-serving despite years out of school – but Madam Smith took it to an art form.
"Are you Pansy Parkinson?" Ron blurted. The idea he was interested in Parkinson preyed on his mind. If Madam Smith were Pansy Parkinson, he'd adapt, but he'd really rather not have to. Accepting her might be beyond reasonable despite the attraction.
When she finally answered, he could hear the smile in her voice. "No, I'm not."
He allowed his entire body to relax in relief. "Good."
A reluctant-sounding laugh escaped her. "And if I were Pansy?"
He gave a gusty sigh. "I'd have to accept it."
The silence that followed was long enough the he imagined she was studying him, examining his body language and voice to read his motives. He smiled, widely enough for the newly-grown skin of his face to stretch and pinch painfully.
He heard the responding smile in her voice when she said, "I don't much like Pansy either. Too arrogant."
Ron checked his tongue before he made some reply about Slytherins and arrogance being one in the same. By the fact she worked as a nurse at St. Mungo's, Madam Smith was not arrogant. Determined, ambitious and headstrong, the other straits of Slytherin house characterized her, but it would be difficult to be arrogant in her profession.
At least with the arrogance of most Slytherins, Ron silently allowed. Hard to pretend blood superiority when you're cleaning a Muggle-born's bedpan.
"And what would you have said about me before I became your patient?" Ron asked, redirecting the conversation. Once again silence stretched between them. He smirked. "Don't worry, I won't hold your previous opinion against you."
She made an indelicate snorting noise. "I'm sure your ego could take the beating."
He gave a mocking gasp. "You wound me, Madam Smith."
"You lie with a golden Gryffindor tongue, Mr. Weasley."
He only smiled. The exasperation in Madam Smith's voice warmed him. In a way, it reminded him of Hermione when she was feeling charitable toward him.
"Your opinion?" he prompted.
"You really want to know?"
"Yes, I do."
She sighed and shifted in her chair, making it squeak once again.
"Very well. I always thought you arrogant as well, sometimes even more so than Draco." He gasped and scowled at being compared to the ferret, but said nothing. "Hot tempered, prone to take offense at the least provocation, obnoxious." She paused. When she continued, he once again heard her smile. "But despite all of that, it was obvious you were loyal to the death to those you consider friends, smart when you applied yourself, good at Quidditch and..."
She trailed off into silence, leaving Ron on tenterhooks. When she didn't say anything after another minute, Ron prompted, "And...?"
"Hot," she mumbled.
His grin still hurt, but he didn't care. "Why, Madam Smith, I do believe you're blushing."
"Hush, you," she said but didn't deny the accusation.
"How terrible it must have been for you, a Slytherin, to admire such a fine piece of Quidditch manliness such as myself."
"I would add modest but it would be an obvious lie."
He laughed. She made him feel good about himself, comfortable.
"What made you want to be a nurse?" he asked after his laughter subsided.
Silence fell again, this time edged with cold. Before he opened his mouth to fix whatever he'd said wrong, she answered.
"Just before seventh year, my older sister was attacked for being a blood traitor." She paused, allowing Ron to comment, but he said nothing, too horrified to speak. "Her husband came home before they were done with her. She was five months pregnant. He was the one who Flooed me." Her voice was so choked with tears he was surprised she could speak at all. He wanted to take her in his arms, to hold her tight, to comfort her, but couldn't do anything. "She was gone when I got there but he was still alive. I found out later that if I'd known basic Healing, he probably would have lived. It...it was a humbling experience."
"You came to St. Mungo's for an apprenticeship after that?" he asked softly. He was unable to wrap his mind around what she'd gone through. If it had been one of his brothers and his wife? Or, worse yet, Ginny and her husband? He shuddered and winced at the motion.
"Yes," she replied just as quietly. After a moment, she laughed darkly. "You've pried more information out of me than most with fewer words, Mr. Weasley."
"Call me Ron, please."
She all but snorted. "That wouldn't be proper."
He grinned. "Wouldn't be proper or would then imply you should give me your first name?"
"You're a sly one, Mr. Weasley."
"Ironic, isn't it?"
"I think you're just trying to trick me."
"Why would I do that?" He dimmed his grin to a small smile, smirk really, to go with his words.
"Mr. Weasley, you're more wicked and cunning than many Slytherins I know." Even he could hear the smile in her voice.
"You wound me."
She laughed at his self-mocking. "I should go, Mr. Weasley, it's getting late."
He wanted to stop her, to keep her, though he didn't totally understand the urge. He'd never felt something so visceral as his need for her – both intellectual and sexual.
"Will I see – wait, will you be back tomorrow?"
"I work here," she said softly.
"That's not what I meant and you know it."
He heard the chair move and inferred she was now standing. "I don't know," she said regretfully.
"Is it because I'll have my bandages off tomorrow?"
"No," she said slowly after an awkward delay.
"If you don't want me to know who you are, just tell me," he barked, incensed. "Don't keep flirting with me, toying with me."
Her voice was like ice when she answered. "I'm sorry you feel that way, Mr. Weasley." The door opened. "Good night." The door closed with a very final click.
"Fucking bloody hell," he muttered. His fiery temper always undid any positive behavior – he'd gone and inadvertently hacked her off because he was annoyed by her evasion.
She got under his skin in ways usually reserved for Hermione – but without the continual antagonism. He'd opened his mouth without thinking. Again. Were they in his room, Harry would smack the back of his head and Hermione would roll her eyes.
Muttering curses under his breath, he shifted in the bed – then hissed in pain, now cursing his Healer for taking him off the pain potion.
He was in a foul mood when he finally fell asleep an hour later.
His foul mood lasted through the morning, especially after he discovered it wasn't Madam Smith who would attend him today but an older nurse he couldn't charm. Madam Smith appeared to be hiding from him.
Not long after lunch, Healer Winston arrived to remove his bandages. The process was sometimes painful and consistently uncomfortable. Though the bandages had been charmed not to stick to his new skin, it had in a few places, especially around his face and wrists where he'd been most severely burned.
"Can I have a mirror?" Ron asked.
Having the bandages off was an odd sort of freedom. The skin on his hands, the only new skin he could see, was as pink as a mild sunburn and weirdly unfreckled. They looked like someone else's hands, not his own.
"In a bit, Mr. Weasley," Healer Winston replied.
He pushed, pulled and tugged on the skin at Ron's face, neck, shoulders, forearms, and hands. It was all Ron could do not to punch the healer, since he said nothing but repeatedly grunted at whatever results he was seeing. When he made a movement to remove his hospital gown altogether, Ron stopped him with a firm grasp of the man's hands.
"My crotch wasn't burned," Ron growled.
Healer Winston looked up, blinking owlishly, then flushed. "Certainly, Mr. Weasley, sorry."
"I want a mirror," Ron all but snarled. He was tired of the Healer, annoyed by Madam Smith's absence and hungry. It all added up to being unwilling to take no for an answer again.
"Mirror. Now." With that, Ron released the healer's wrists.
Healer Winston backed away slowly, exiting the room with haste once he reached the door. Ron grinned to himself.
Being alone and unbandaged gave him time to examine by touch. Rubbing his thumbs against his fingertips felt very strange, as if there were a film over his skin. Only after he touched his fingertips to his face and encountered that same strange disconnect between what he knew he was feeling and what he actually felt did he understand. Nerve endings. It would take some time yet before his nerve endings were normal.
Healer Winston returned with both a hand mirror and the nurse that reminded him of Aunt Tessie.
He took the mirror carefully, watching his fingers curl around the handle firmly since he couldn't feel himself holding it. He found himself reluctant to look at his face now that he had the mirror. Would he recognize himself? Would Harry and Hermione recognize him?
Taking a deep breath, he lifted the mirror to look at his face.
His skin, like that on his hands, was new, pink and unfreckled. His features were in the same place, but he nearly didn't recognize himself with unmarked skin. The face looking back at him was a stranger's except his eyes. He recognized his eyes. And the shape of his nose, that was familiar. Very little else seemed like part of his face.
"Well, Mr. Weasley?" Healer Winston said. The nurse stood at his shoulder, ready with yet another potion.
"Different," he muttered, turning first to one side then the other.
"The skin looks good. The pink coloration will decrease over the next week." Healer Winston turned to the nurse, spoke briefly to her in a hushed whisper, then returned his attention to Ron. "You can have visitors tomorrow and, if everything continues so well, you'll be released in four days."
Ron nodded absently. He took the potions he was handed, barely grimacing at the taste, and returned the mirror when asked. The healer and nurse left the room, meaning Ron was alone with his thoughts.
He didn't know what he'd expected when the bandages were removed – probably to look exactly the same as he had, despite how impossible that was given the extent of his injuries. His mind wandered further. He knew his family would recognize him – his mum only had trouble telling Fred and George apart because they intentionally confused her – but he worried about everyone else.
He'd never given much thought to his looks except to note witches seemed to like how he was put together. A few wizards did, too, but he didn't swing that way and always turned them down.
Will Madam Smith like how I look?
Almost as soon as the thought passed through his mind, he berated himself for it. She was hiding from him. And, despite how much he wanted to see her, to touch her, she apparently didn't feel the same way. If she did, he reasoned, she would have revealed who she was when they talked the night before.
He sighed, turned, and punched his pillow. A moment later, when his brain registered the pain in his new skin, he cursed vehemently.
"You're still alive!" Hermione cried as she and Harry entered Ron's room. She made to run at him and hug him, but Ron crossed his forefingers in the air at arm's length.
Harry smirked, barely containing his laughter, as he closed and sealed the door. Hermione threw herself into a chair, pouting. Harry warded the room before perching on the arm of Hermione's chair.
"My skin is too sensitive to be touched," Ron explained, laying his arms gingerly on the cotton blankets. His nerve endings were now being regenerated and even air on his skin hurt. "And, if I were dead, don't you think someone would tell you?"
Hermione huffed, making Ron and Harry smile. She hated having flaws in her logic pointed out, especially when the boys were so infrequently able to do so.
"Is the...object...secure?" Ron asked quietly, keeping his voice down despite Harry's wards.
"Yes," Hermione answered before Harry could. "We've destroyed it."
Ron raised what would be his eyebrows when they grew back. "The fire didn't destroy it?"
Harry shook his head as Hermione replied, "No. We haven't figured out why it caught fire." She shared a look with Harry. "Harry should handle the last one."
Ron didn't argue with that. He'd already come to the conclusion in his own mind that Harry was the only choice. If Nagini were going to catch fire, he had no desire to be barbequed again.
"You two didn't see a nurse named Madam Smith, did you?" Ron asked, leaning forward slightly.
Harry's smirk grew. "Why? Is she something to look at?" Hermione elbowed him in the stomach, making him grunt and rub the abused muscles.
Ron signed and leaned back. "I don't know. I haven't seen her."
"Then why are you asking about her?" Hermione said.
Ron felt his face flame, but hoped it was concealed under the pinkness of his new skin. How was he supposed to explain the attraction to Madam Smith? There was a spark there, something he wanted to explore, something he wanted to see if he could fan into a flame.
"No reason," he muttered. He shifted restlessly, hissing at the movement of clothing and blankets on his skin.
Harry looked as if Christmas had come early. "Ron has a crush."
"Shut up, Harry," Ron growled.
Harry only laughed. "Madam Smith has caught his fancy."
"Shut up, Harry." Ron was going to kill the Boy Who Lived, he really was, if the prat didn't shut up.
Rather than be afraid, Harry just laughed.
"Should I go find this Madam Smith?" Hermione offered.
"No!" Ron all but shouted.
Hermione shrank back. "Fine. There was no need to yell."
"I was discouraging you."
"A simple no spoken at a conversational volume would have been fine," she pouted.
Harry barked a laugh before patting the top of her head. "Hermione, you're like a terrier with a bone about certain things."
She pouted again, brushing Harry's hand away as she crossed her arms over her chest. A small smile destroyed the effectiveness of her pout.
"Hermione, was Zacharias Smith the only Smith in school with us?" Ron asked suddenly. Why shouldn't he make use of his best resource?
Her eyes unfocused slightly as she thought about the question. "No, there was a Michael Smith two years ahead of us in Ravenclaw, a Smith in Gryffindor as a first year in our sixth." She blinked, then shook her head. "I think that was all, but I could have Professor McGonagall check school records."
Ron dismissed the offer. "I trust your memory." She preened a bit.
"Trying to pinpoint Madam Smith?" Harry asked.
Ron sighed, frustrated. "Yes! She said she was a Slytherin in our year and denied being Pansy Parkinson."
"Thank Merlin," Harry muttered, then grunted in pain when Hermione smacked the back of his head.
"She won't tell me her first name," Ron added. He had come to the conclusion that Smith was either a married name or an alias and, were it a married name, Mr. Smith was no longer around. He hoped.
"Well, the Slytherin girls in our year tended to keep to themselves," Hermione said. "Other than Pansy, that is. And during the Dueling Club second year." All three shared a grimace at that memory.
Ron met her eyes, hoping his weren't as desperate as he felt. "Who were they?"
She tapped a finger against her lips as she thought. Harry absently rubbed her back.
"Millicent Bulstrode –" they shared another grimace at the memory of Millicent having Hermione in a headlock that started a series of events ending with her in the hospital wing for weeks until she no longer looked like a cat "– Tracey Davis and Daphne Greengrass."
Ron remembered Millicent. Granted, she was quite difficult to forget given her resemblance to a boulder.
"She must be either Tracey Davis or Daphne Greengrass," Rom murmured.
"Not Millicent?" Harry teased.
Ron swore to himself that he'd ask Tonks to cut Harry off because it made him too damn happy. Ron could deal with a surly Harry more easily than he could handle this happy version.
"No, not Millicent," Ron answered.
Hermione chewed on the side of her thumb, apparently deep in thought. Ron opened his mouth to ask what she was thinking about, but closed it when Hermione blurted out, "Tracey Davis is dead."
Harry looked down at her and Ron furrowed his brow.
Hermione met Ron's eyes. "She was caught in the crossfire a year or so ago in Diagon Alley."
Ron licked his lips, suddenly nervous. "So Madam Smith is Daphne Greengrass."
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" Harry asked.
"Good, compared to the alternatives," Ron answered, then sighed. "I can't remember a think about her, though."
"It means you have no preconceptions," Hermione said softly. "Whatever might be between you is a blank slate."
Ron smiled. "Except for the whole Slytherin / Gryffindor thing."
"Yes, well, except that."
Harry turned suddenly toward the door. "Hermione, we need to leave. His healer wants into the room."
"Very well," she said.
She stood and made a motion to kiss Ron's forehead in parting until he crossed his fingers in the air once again. She sighed and turned back to Harry.
"We'll see you in three days for your discharge," Harry said. A flash lit the room as Harry took down the wards.
Healer Winston nearly fell into the room as the door, in the absence of resistance, opened with a bang. He glared at Harry, who merely grinned, and Hermione as they exited.
Madam Smith avoided Ron for the remainder of his stay at St. Mungo's. True to their promise, Harry and Hermione arrived to escort him home. By using a combination of Disillusionment charms and Harry's Invisibility Cloak, the trio made it to Grimmauld Place unscathed.
Since the Weasley clan had never been told Ron was injured, his mother left him alone. He spent the next week at Grimmauld Place alternating between sitting in the rear garden to re-freckle himself and sitting in the kitchen brooding. Some days he did his brooding outside, combining activities. He tried to avoid Harry and Tonks when they were in the same room because they nauseated him. Ron did ask Tonks to cut Harry off for even a few days, but she merely rolled her eyes and told him she rather enjoyed Harry's mood. The idea turned Ron's stomach. He noticed Hermione tried to avoid them as much as possible as well.
A week after his discharge, Hermione found him in the kitchen. She sat across from him at the old plank table, covering his hands so he would cease toying with his empty glass.
"You need to do something romantic," she said decisively.
He met her eyes, newly-grown eyebrows raised speculatively. "Romantic?"
"Send her flowers."
She huffed and rolled her eyes. "You are such a boy. The thought is what you're going for here. Flowers are very romantic. Very few women dislike flowers." She released his hands to shake a finger at him. "And if you're worried about them dying, cast an Ever-Fresh charm on them."
She sighed heavily. "Go see Neville. He'll help you, you poor boy." She left the kitchen, shaking her head and muttering under her breath.
Ron thought he should be offended, but her suggestion – order, really – had merit. He made note to visit Neville.
Two days later, Ron found himself at Longbottom Manor. Neville's harridan of a grandmother had passed on the year before, leaving the estate to Neville. His first act had been to thoroughly renovate the gardens and add a greenhouse.
It took Ron fifteen minutes to explain his predicament – then another twenty before Neville stopped laughing.
After ordering him to touch nothing, Neville led him into the greenhouse. Ron only half-listened to Neville's explanations of the various bloodthirsty plants at the front of the building. Neville kept the worst plants at the front, he said, to discourage theft. When it took a cutting charm to free him from an experimental hybrid, and a binding hex to keep it away, Ron saw the wisdom of the plan.
The roses were at the back of the greenhouse in a specially designated area. Neville explained why, but Ron paid no attention. He was beginning to regret his decision to pursue Madam Smith.
And yet when he thought about letting her go, something cold wrapped around his heart. He at least wanted a decent chance to win her over.
Neville snapped his fingers in front of Ron's face, startling him. Sheepishly, Ron turned to Neville, finally paying attention.
"What kind of roses do you want?" Neville asked, cupping a blood-red bloom to inhale the scent.
Ron's mind went blank. What kind? There was more than one?
Smiling at Ron's dumbstruck expression, Neville began with something simple. "What color?"
Ron blinked. "You mean red isn't the only color?"
Neville shook his head. "Hermione did the right thing by sending you here." He led Ron further back into the rose room before spreading an arm to encompass all the boxes of flowers in the room. "There is a plethora of choice."
Confronted with what looked like a rainbow of roses, Ron muttered, "Bloody hell."
"What do you want to say?"
"Roses talk? I didn't know there was a charm for that."
Neville glared at him. "Ron, I know you learned something in school. Quit being an arse."
Ron stifled his grin.
"Well? What are you trying to say to her?" Neville pressed the point.
Carding a hand through his hair, Ron took in the rows of flowers and tried not to feel overwhelmed.
"Nothing in here will attack, will it?" Ron asked.
Neville choked back a laugh. "No, not in here."
With that reassurance, Ron walked the rows. Neville had grown an astonishing variety of flowers in the time he'd been lord of the manor. Just the roses threatened to overwhelm Ron. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and thought about Madam Smith – Daphne.
When he opened his eyes, the first roses his gaze fell upon were an unusual silver color three rows over. He made his way to the box, aware in the periphery of his vision that Neville was shadowing him.
Gently cupping the bloom as he'd seen Neville do earlier, he bent to inhale the scent of the silver rose. The distinctive scent of rose underlay the more complex overtones. Ron, rather whimsically he thought, smelled moonlight and shadows in the bouquet.
"That's a new hybrid," Neville offered. Ron looked up, blinking as he came back to himself. "This is the first year I've managed to coax it to bloom."
"I'd like a dozen," Ron said. The color and scent were perfect. "And, if you have it, gold ribbon to tie it with."
Neville grinned. "I can do that."
Ron didn't think he'd ever been this nervous. With Hermione's help, he was dressed to impress. Under new robes he'd allowed Harry to buy – but only because he was desperate, he'd explained to Harry, because he didn't want Harry to get any ideas about throwing his money around – Ron wore a Muggle suit. He'd even allowed Hermione to fix his hair, but he still wasn't sure if that had been a good idea or not.
Using his savings and yet more money from Harry – a loan, Ron insisted, which Harry waved off – Ron set the stage for a romantic evening. After taking the mickey out of him, his brothers Fred and George allowed him to use the roof of the building that housed their joke shop. A cloth-covered table with a single silver rose as a centerpiece awaited.
Ron had sent the dozen roses, tied with a wide golden ribbon and carefully nestled in a white box, to St. Mungo's earlier in the day. Atop the flowers, Ron had placed a note:
Please have dinner with me this evening. I'd like to sit and talk for a while, to get to know you even better.
If you'll consent to meet me, tap your want to this card and say, "Yes." Directions and a time will then appear.
He left it unsigned, hoping she'd be intrigued enough to say yes. When he felt the tingle that signified her acceptance, it was all he could do to contain himself. He'd had to smack the back of Harry's head for his rude comments about Ron's reaction. Harry had only laughed when Ron said he'd been easier to get along with as a repressed, angry virgin.
The sun was just beginning to set, casting its last fiery rays across the roof, when he heard a crack of Apparition behind him.
"Ron?" she gasped before catching herself, correcting herself. "Mr. Weasley?"
He didn't turn just yet, suddenly wanting to delay that moment when he saw her, really saw her, for the first time.
"I liked 'Ron' better," he said. "Please, have a seat."
He waited until he heard the scrape of a chair against the concrete roof. He crossed the roof to the ice bucket holding the wine he'd asked Bill to choose. Though he could have used magic to open and pour, he didn't, feeling doing it himself was more personal.
"How did you figure out who I was?" she asked softly.
A glass of wine in each hand, he turned to the table. Swallowing his nauseating nervousness, he lifted his gaze and met her eyes for the first time.
He smiled. "Magic."
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