Warnings: HBP Spoiler
Summary: There's no better Christmas gift than a first kiss. A special Ron/Hermione Christmas one-shot to keep you warm - no misteltoe required.
A/N: The story that Ron tells Hermione in the following one-shot was originated by Alden Perks in The Santa Claus Book but has been paraphrased, modified and made more "dragon-friendly" by yours truly. It's a truly fantastic read and a wonderful gift for kids of all ages. That being said, seeing as my other fic is about 2 chapters away from being very, *very* H/G, I give you my first R/Hr romance. Happy Holidays to all and, in the words of a certain Wizarding rock band... "keep each other warm."
"O, Tannenbaum, O, Tannenbaum... How verdant are thy branches..."
Hermione sat cross-legged in front of the fire at the Burrow looking over an old Christmas caroler she had found by the foot of the Weasley family Christmas tree and hummed the tunes quietly to herself. It was Christmas Eve once again; as usual, Ron's parents had extended a warm invitation for both Harry and Hermione to come stay for the holiday. In an attempt to spend as much time with her friends as with her family, Hermione had compromised by agreeing to join the Weasleys for the week approaching Christmas and leave on Christmas Day to rejoin her family until the New Year, but after all the cooking, decorating, games, and stories, she hardly had time to notice how quickly seven days at the Burrow flew by. A part of her felt sorely jealous of Harry for having no where else to be for Christmas.
The house had grown incomprehensively quiet considering how noisy and overrun with family and friends it had been only hours before. Surely by now the Burrow's occupants were all safely tucked in their respective rooms, she thought, surveying the moonlit winter scene outside. A chilly draft was seeping through a crack in the emerald-stained window, occasionally making the curtains shift and sway, and Hermione curled up a little deeper into the knitted robe that Mrs. Weasley had given her as an early Christmas gift. Drawn up against her face, it smelled a little like honey and pine needles and pastry dough... and perhaps not a little bit like Ron as well.
Smiling, she turned the page and continued softly, "...not only green when summer's here, but also when it's cold and drear..."
"I didn't know you could sing."
Hermione jumped and looked behind her. Standing bashfully by the settee in his candy-striped pajamas and a matching knitted robe, was Ron. She hastily got to her feet and hoped her reddening cheeks were camouflaged in the firelight. "I was just... I mean," she said with a flustered laugh, "I don't really sing."
Ron raised an eyebrow. "Could've fooled me," he remarked, smiling sideways at her.
Suddenly and inexplicably uncomfortable, Hermione was surprised to realize that she couldn't find a witty reply to his statement. Instead, she shrugged lamely at him and tried to smile.
"Right, well... I'll leave you to it then, shall I?" He stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned back towards the crooked staircase.
"Well, you don't have to leave," she blurted. Ron looked back over his shoulder; noting something like uncertainty in his face, Hermione turned her gaze to the throw rug under her feet and quickly added, "unless, of course, you're tired, in which case, yes, you should leave. I suppose."
He cleared his throat and turned around. "Well, I guess... I guess, I'm not really tired."
"Good. I mean, okay..." Then again, maybe he should leave, she thought miserably to herself. You're clearly not batting on a full wicket tonight, Hermione.
"So..." said Ron quietly, stepping around the sofa to sit down, "when do you think you'll go home?"
"I'll take the portkey out sometime mid-morning. I wouldn't want to go before you, Harry, and Ginny open the gifts I got you," she said, smoothing the fringe on the rug with the toe of her slipper.
"I see. Well, that's good..."
She grinned and sat at the opposite end of the sofa.
"It's a right shame you have to go tomorrow," Ron asserted quietly, pulling a cushion onto his lap. "Me and Harry'll miss you."
"Harry and I."
"Nothing," she laughed. Staring at the fire as it danced in the hearth, she added lightly, "I'll miss you, too."
This is bizarre, thought Hermione. Since Bill and Fleur's wedding, everything between her and Ron had become utterly indefinable - they hadn't even had a proper row in months - and now here they were, alone for the first time in goodness knows how long, without a single clue how to behave around one another without Harry in the room to mediate. And to add insult to injury... Goodness, am I... am I twirling my hair?
All at once, she became acutely aware that Ron was watching her and shivered as it sent a prickly chill up her spine.
"Cold?" he asked.
"A little," she replied honestly.
At the look on Ron's race, Hermione forgot to breathe in. His eyes suddenly brightening, he put the cushion down and leaned towards her as though he were either going to tell her a secret or - could it be possible - kiss her?
"I've got just the thing for that," he murmured softly, smiling.
"Y-you do?" she inquired, her eyelids already at half-mast.
"Mm-hmm," he replied.
At that moment, he sprung up off the couch and left.
Surprised, Hermione's eyes fluttered back open. "Erm... Ron?" she whispered loudly over her shoulder, trying not to wake anyone. "Where are you going?"
"The kitchen!" came his raspy reply.
But, of course, she thought, falling back against the sofa, deflated. Oh, Hermione, sometimes you can be such a girl!
Ron returned from the kitchen sooner than she anticipated and flopped down on the floor next to her slippers with a bowl and something that resembled a gigantic red Christmas bauble rolling around in it.
"A... a pomegranate?" she inquired confusedly.
"Granada, Chinese Apple, whatever you want to call it," he replied, beaming. Hermione tried not to gape at him as he tossed a towel over the floor and began to peel it apart with his hands. Ron seemed to sense her bewilderment, and he looked up at her shyly. "Best not to eat one on the settee - Mum would kill me if I got it dirty. You know these seeds stain worse than Bubotuber pus left out overnight."
"Well, I've never actually had one," she admitted plaintively and shimmied off of the sofa onto the floor.
Ron paused to look at her. "You're winding me up," he exclaimed in surprise. "Are you serious?"
"Quite, actually," she replied sincerely, settling herself comfortably on the ground. "They’re supposed be pretty acidic and bad for your teeth, aren’t they? My parents never had them around the house."
"Then this should be an experience," he said sarcastically. "Pomegranates are-"
"The world's most labor-intensive fruit," she finished, smiling. "I might never have had one, but I have read about them."
Rolling his eyes, Ron chuckled at her. "Figures."
She watched in fascination as he separated the fruit into asymmetrical quarters, the tiny ruby-colored seeds sparkling in the fire's flickering glow. "They look like little fairy-lights," Hermione observed, pulling off one of the seeds and examining it in the palm of her hand. "Can you just eat them this way?"
"Some people do but I'd rather just chew them up and spit out the pits."
Hermione resisted the compulsion to make a face. "Erm... Right. I'll follow your lead then," she said.
He took a few seeds off of the rind, popped them into his mouth, and non-chalantly masticated them in an almost chipmunk-like manner, to which Hermione instantly burst into a fit of giggles. "What?" asked Ron indignantly between chews.
"Oh, nothing, nothing," she sniggered and pulled a few off for herself to do a carbon-copy impersonation of Ron's eating style, rapidly chomping up the seeds like a rabbit.
"Ha, ha, very funny," said Ron sorely, passing her the bowl once he had spit out the pits. “Honestly, who’s the novice here?”
“Sorry,” she said, plucking a few more seeds. They were delicious - sweet and tart, they reminded her of fresh berries, and the juice burst into her mouth as she bit down on each little jewel-shaped pod. Of course, they were so small, she didn't think anything of popping a few more into her mouth, and more yet, until she realized she looked more like a chipmunk with her cheeks puffed out than Ron did with his nibbling. Hermione suddenly blanched. "Loo’ tha’ way," she said with a full mouth, pointing towards the opposite wall.
"Huh?" Ron turned around. "I don't see anything..."
Hermione quickly emptied her mouth of the seeds. "Sorry, I just didn't want you to watch me spitting out pomegranate pits," she said, shyly wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and replacing the bowl between them.
"Always a lady," muttered Ron jokingly, but as soon as the words slipped from his lips, all humor seemed to drop from them. Hermione paused and glanced at him, trying to discern whether he was being funny or complimentary. By the startled look on his face, she figured he probably couldn't tell either.
When she could no longer bear his uncomfortable gaze, she stared down at her red stained fingers and began to chuckle softly to herself. "What is it now?" asked Ron, watching her interestedly out of the corner of his eye.
Hermione averted her eyes, and popped another batch of seeds into her mouth. "Nothing. It's stupid," she answered dismissively, but try as she might, she couldn't make herself stop smiling.
"Come on," he coaxed. "What is it?"
"Well," she began slowly, staring at the fireplace, "you know, Hades seduced Persephone with a pomegranate."
At this statement, Ron promptly choked on a seed.
"Goodness, Ron, are you all right?" cried Hermione, jumping up and patting him on the back.
"Fine... I'm fine," he answered between coughs.
Barefoot, she ran into the kitchen and fetched a glass of water to bring back to Ron who, by that time, had garnered a small mustache of sweat on his upper lip. "You okay?"
He nodded, apparently shaken. "Uh, sure. Thanks," he replied nervously, taking the glass and knocking it back into his throat as though it were a shot of Firewhiskey.
She pushed her bushy hair behind one ear and sat back down. “I didn’t mean anything by it, Ron, it’s just a-“
"You know... I had something of a different story in mind when I brought over the pomegranate, Hermione," he interrupted quietly, his hand returning to the fruit to pluck another handful for Hermione.
Catching the seeds in the palm of her hand, she paused. "What? You have a pomegranate story?"
A smile returning to his lips, Ron nodded. "A Christmas pomegranate story," he declared proudly, tossing a couple of seeds into his mouth and chewing. "Charlie told it to me when I was little. We grew up eating them around Christmas time so it sort of stuck with me, you know?"
This time Hermione didn't mind spitting the seed into the bowl in front of him. "Do tell."
Ron moved over so that he was facing her, happy to finally tell her something she didn't already know. He grabbed another quarter of fruit.
"Well, Hermione," he said, plucking a seed off of the rind and holding it up as an exhibit, "have you ever wondered how it is Santa Claus stays warm in the North Pole?"
"Why, I certainly have," she replied in a playful voice. "How is it that Santa stays warm in the North Pole?"
Ron, suddenly a veritable storyteller, held out several seeds in the palm of his hand in front of her face. "Well, turns out there's a Magical Pomegranate Tree way up North, and it's guarded by this dragon who didn't want to share it-"
"I can see why you heard this story from Charlie."
“Tut-tut, no interruptions,” Ron chided and continued. "Anyway, the reason why it's magic is because one seed from one of the pomegranates on the tree could keep you warm in the coldest weather for fifty whole years," he said mysteriously. "So one day, Saint Nicholas hears about this magical fruit and decides he's going to go off, trick the dragon, and take one of the pomegranates so he can stay warm all year round and never be cold again."
"Santa, steal?" she said pretending to be scandalized as she spit out another pit. "Never!"
"How do you know? When was the last time you were so cold, you froze right through your seven layers of jumpers and trousers and socks and knickers and everything?" he countered, trying hard not to laugh at Hermione's act. "Well, Santa found out that the Magic Pomegranate Tree was in this beautiful flowery green valley at the top of the world, which incidentally is why the Northern Lights are so many colors, I might add…”
Hermione nodded in agreement. “Obviously.”
“And that’s where he found the dragon guarding the tree,” he explained, spitting out and popping in more seeds as he continued with the fairy tale. “Wouldn’t you know it - Santa went right up to the dragon and tricked him, telling him that there was some other treasure he was looking for that only the dragon could carry. Since that particular dragon was pretty greedy and really gullible, he went off looking for it, leaving the Magical Pomegranate Tree unprotected.”
“Ooh. And what happened next?”
“Well, that's when Santa ran down as fast as he could," he said, mimicking Santa's frantic flight by pumping his arms back and forth, to which Hermione promptly doubled over in laughter, "stole the fruit and ran as fast as he could away from the tree! Of course, the dragon was furious when he came back and caught Santa trying to run away, but when the poor thing tried to blow fire and roast good ol’ Saint Nick, he found that he couldn't because all of the fire power was in the magical pomegranate, and Santa had taken it from him!"
Still laughing, Hermione gasped exaggeratedly, "Oh no! What about the poor dragon?"
"Well," said Ron, throwing back another few seeds to munch on, "Santa's a fair bloke, so he cut a deal with him. He said he would give back the pomegranate for the dragon to protect only if he could have one seed every fifty years to keep him warm. That way, everyone wins. Every fifty years, Santa Claus can get warm, and the dragon gets to live the very fulfilling life of guarding his Magic Pomegranate for the rest of eternity. The end."
Hermione clapped happily at Ron's theatrical representation of Charlie's story, to which Ron gave a short stiff bow. "Good story!" she said, beaming at him.
Suddenly a loud voice came from the top of the stairs. "RONALD WEASLEY! EITHER YOU TWO PIPE DOWN OR WE'LL MAKE A CHRISTMAS PUDDING OUT OF YOU TOMORROW MORNING!"
"Sorry, Mum!" he called back up, snorting as he tried to contain his laughter.
“Sorry Mrs. Weasley!”
Giggles subsiding, Hermione sighed contentedly and looked down at the bowl, which was now full of pits. They had somehow finished the pomegranate throughout the course of their time together, and for a moment, Hermione was sad to see the rind empty of the brilliant ruby-colored seeds.
Their eyes met briefly before Ron glanced down at his fingertips, which were sticky and bright red from the pomegranate juice. “Bloody hell,” he said in surprise, and commenced to lick his fingers clean.
Looking down at her own fingers, Hermione winced. “I guess that’s what I get for being a novice,” she remarked, holding out her hand for him to see. “Mine are stained worse than yours.”
“Yeah, and your lips are all red, too…” he remarked absently, before his voice came to an abrupt stop.
Hermione touched two fingers to her mouth and blushed at the realization that he had not been looking at her hand.
"Not that red is bad, of course... though I imagine it might be sticky... Not that I'm wondering," he rambled. Retracting from her as though he had just inadvertently waltzed into Aragog's lair, Ron did not venture to comment further on Hermione’s lips and, to her discontent, turned away from her and faced the Christmas tree, palpably mortified.
Hermione knew she'd better stop him before he completely capsized in the whirlpool of his embarrassment. She crawled over and sat beside him to gaze at the smoldering fire while Ron looked pointedly in another direction, mindlessly fiddling with a gingerbread ornament.
“That was a nice fairy tale,” she offered. “Thank you.”
In the faint glow, she saw Ron turn and look hopefully at her, overtly relieved that he had not irreparably overstepped his bounds. “You liked it?” he said softly. “I’m glad.”
She smiled. “Me too. It worked.”
“I’m not cold anymore,” she said.
“Oh, the pomegranate.” Bashfully, Ron ran a hand along the back of his neck and chuckled. “I thought it might do the trick.”
She was twirling her hair again. “Well, yes, that was very good too, but… I wasn’t talking about the pomegranate.”
Ron blinked at her and once again Hermione found herself painfully at odds with her vocabulary. Desperate for anything to occupy her, she returned to distractedly licking her fingers before she caught Ron gazing uncertainly at her out of the corner of her eye. Sometimes he can be so daft, she thought in frustration and, feeling nervous heat prickling at her ears, she realized it was time for desperate measures. Of course, the question was whether or not she had the gall to follow them through.
"There's just one problem," she began.
"What's that?" asked Ron, looking adorably concerned.
Just say it, Hermione...
“Well... how will I keep warm when I leave?” she whispered, rubbing her hands together.
Hermione couldn't tell if it was a side effect of the dying fire, but all color seemed to disappear from Ron's cheeks. She heard a faint *pop* and had to stop herself from giggling; he had accidentally snapped the gingerbread ornament in half.
There. The line had been crossed and it all rested on him now. Though she was no longer watching his face, she could sense him growing flushed beside her.
Quickly sweeping the broken ornament under the rug, Ron tried awkwardly to straighten himself before he spoke. "Her-Hermione...?" he stuttered despite a failed attempt to sound collected.
“Would you mind terribly if... I gave you a... if I gave you the first part of your Christmas gift?” he implored tentatively.
She bit her lip and tried to quiet her fluttering stomach. “Not at all,” she replied.
“I mean, you could say 'no' if you want-,” he added quickly before cutting himself off. “Sorry, was that a ‘yes’?”
Heat rising behind her cheeks, she nodded.
Ron gulped. As one might approach touching a hot iron, Ron timidly reached over and took both her hands in his, and Hermione felt her heart skip a beat. “Right then... Okay...” he stammered, smiling nervously. “Well, ...Happy Christmas, Hermione...”
There beneath the Christmas tree, as he had done only moments before, Ron leaned in to share his special secret - only this time, Hermione was sure he wouldn't run off. Their eyes slipped shut when, light as a feather, he touched his berry-flavored lips to hers, letting them gently linger there for a moment before finally mustering his remaining Gryffindor courage to kiss her rightly. Her mind buzzing with the knowledge of what was finally happening, Hermione's lips tingled with a delicious warmth that spread right down into her fuzzy slippers, and she found his hand with hers and squeezed it as if to reassure them both that it wasn't a mistake. That - whatever he felt - she felt it too, and that tomorrow, they would still be Ron and Hermione, best friends... and perhaps something more.
Amazing how one kiss can leave two people intact at the same time as it changes everything, she mused amidst the myriad thoughts and emotions spinning through her mind.
After a duration of time measurable only in held breaths and racing heartbeats, Ron finally pulled himself away and brought their first kiss to an end.
"So..." he said in a far-off voice.
Hermione opened her eyes and found Ron looking distinctly anxious and waiting expectantly for her reaction. Unfortunately, she had yet to regain her mastery over words. "So," she replied, casting him a dazed smile.
He cleared his throat. "Well, erm, you should get some sleep," he said quietly, unconsciously tightening his grip on her hands. "I hope you have a good Christmas with your family tomorrow." Suddenly recalling Hermione's imminent departure from the Burrow, Ron's face fell.
She bowed her head sheepishly, a mess of curls falling into her face. "I really do wish I could stay longer," she remarked, once she had finally remembered to breathe normally again.
As the fire finally extinguished, Ron gazed at her intently under the fairy-light glow. "Me too."
Hermione smiled bittersweetly at his heavy expression, and still holding both of her gummy hands, Ron stood up and helped her to her feet. Now standing face to face, he dropped her hands, hastily shoved his own back into his pockets, and swayed on the spot - his eyes focused apprehensively on a random spot just behind Hermione's shoulder.
I don't believe it. He's just as undone as I am. The very idea of it was wild and exciting to her, and it stirred one last bit of bravery within her.
"Erm... before I go, I should probably remind you...” she began, boldly lacing her fingers between his. She felt him jump at her touch.
“What?” he asked shakily.
“Kisses aren't Magic Pomegranate Seeds, you know," she asserted, grinning knowingly. "Let’s not wait fifty years for the next one.”
Their mutual tension lifted as a relieved smile spread across his face. “Don’t worry," Ron chuckled, gently pulling her towards him, "I won’t.”
Hermione forgot the chilly draft from the window as she wrapped her arms around him, warm and snug in his embrace. Closing her eyes as he leaned in once more, she murmured softly, "Happy Christmas indeed."