Word count: 2,255
Summary: Rita Skeeter strikes back, writing for the gossip column of the Daily Prophet about the special guests of the 2014 Quidditch World Cup.
Notes: (OP: July 2014) In the spirit of posting all my fics from this year here, here's what I wrote after the Rita Skeeter article about the Quidditch World Cup released on Pottermore. Most of the fics I read have Ron joking and no longer having a problem with what others think of him, and while I do agree that over the years his confidence must have built up, I think that maybe a light wisp of insecurity still remains—but for very different reasons than those of a teenage boy, as I hope I was able to convey. Thanks to jenahid for correcting this! :)
Hermione woke up abruptly and suppressed a groan. It had taken her a long time to fall asleep, and now she felt as if it'd happened mere seconds ago. It was not for lack of exhaustion: she'd had an unusually long day, waking up at five to make sure everything was packed and nothing necessary was being left behind; getting the children dressed and fed—although Ron, bless his heart, was the expert in breakfast chores—and meeting Harry and his trio to catch the Portkey to Argentina at 8 am. Once there, it had been a great hustle and bustle all around, what with the setting up of the tents, having most of the kids from their extended family being more trouble than help, and all the curious eyes trying to get a peek or even pass the tight security wards that protected their section of the campsite. And then in the afternoon, they had been busy making sure that the younger children weren't getting past the wards without an adult. She could definitely use a good night's rest.
But now that she was awake, she could feel without even checking that Ron was gone, and she knew it was pointless to even try and fall back to sleep before he returned. She grabbed her dressing gown from a coat stand and tiptoed across the room so as not to wake Rose and Hugo in their bunk beds. If the kids got their way, they would all be staying in one tent, while the adults slept in the other... but they had made that mistake once.
Each family had brought their own tent, cosy little flats on the inside, nice-smelling and with modern furniture, nothing like the temporary home that Harry, Ron and Hermione had shared for a year. The Potters and the Weasley-Grangers had been on quite a few camping trips, their children's favourite type of holiday, but Hermione had never warmed up to camping. As different as the tents' appearance and the memories they created within them were, she could never sleep soundly during those trips. Neither could Ron this time, it seemed.
With all the lights out in the rest of the tent, she found her husband sitting just outside, at the entrance. Her heart fluttered anxiously at the sight, the memories coming to haunt her again: Ron in pain, Ron snapping at her, Ron out of her reach until the war was over. She closed her eyes briefly and shook her head at how daft she was being. There was nothing to be afraid of anymore, and he was most certainly not out of her reach.
She walked up to him and stood silently for a moment, taking in the view. The large contingent of wizards and witches come from all around the world for the 427th Quidditch World Cup was encamped on a valley between the white-topped mountains, in the Patagonian desert. She had researched the place before coming and knew that it was a sparsely populated area, but its surroundings seemed to be a really popular tourist destination. Since the Muggle Football World Cup was taking place during June and July, however, the world's attention was focused in Brazil.
They had gone through great pains to arrange everyone's days off to fit into the same four-day holiday, to catch the Japan vs. USA match on Wednesday, and then the final on Friday. Ginny had been covering the event since April, going back and forth from home to Argentina as much as she could but still mostly leaving the children to Harry. The entire Weasley family had made sure to be available for whatever Harry needed, but he claimed to be having a great time. Hermione had been a little sceptical at first; she only had two children, who were decidedly mellower than the Potters, but she wouldn't know what to do if she had to go without Ron's help for so many days. That was, however, until Hermione had found Harry sleeping soundly with Lily in the girl's bed at three in the afternoon, on a working day; his glasses askew and a pink Hello Kitty plaster on the silly cut he got while playing Quidditch over the weekend. Harry really was having a great time.
Ron had obviously been lost in thought, but after a couple of seconds, he noticed her presence and greeted her with a, 'Hey.'
'Hi. Aren't you tired?'
Ron snorted good-naturedly.
'Knackered. I have a feeling this is gonna be one of those holidays when no one actually gets any rest. Not that I'm complaining,' he added promptly. 'I do want to see the matches, and the kids are near to pissing themselves in excitement.'
In the dim light of the moon and the torches scattered about the camp, Hermione could see the corner of his lips turned up when he spoke of their children, and it made her smile as well.
'I know. Still, we should be sleeping. Both of us. What were you doing out here?'
'Not much,' he answered nonchalantly, but Hermione didn't fall for it. She stooped and hugged him from behind, joining her hands with his on the front.
'It's freezing. Quite the weather change from England, uh?'
'I'll keep you warm,' he said and, turning to her, he grabbed Hermione by the waist and pulled her down into his lap, burying his face in the crook of her neck and wrapping his arms around her.
'You can keep me warmer back in bed,' Hermione insisted. She squirmed until she could properly look at him in the eyes. Ron took advantage of this convenient position and kissed her on the mouth; when he opened his mouth to deepen the kiss, however, Hermione knew that he was going to snog her until she forgot what she'd come to ask. She caught his lower lip between her teeth gently before breaking apart; then draped her arms loosely around his neck and tilted her head.
'So. Will you tell me what's going on inside that beautiful mind of yours?'
'Beautiful mind?' he repeated with a chuckle. Ron let out a long breath, as if he'd been holding it in for a while, and spoke. 'Do you think we'd be better off if I'd stayed with the Aurors?'
That's it, Hermione thought. That damned article. She should have known when she saw him sitting out there, a phantom memory of those endless watches long ago. Ron had been so cheerful about the article earlier, though, laughing and joking with everyone else, like they always did, at Rita's penchant for ludicrously made-up drama. She hadn't spared a second thought at the possibility that he still fell for it. Now she wondered if it'd only been a mask he put on for her sake, and if Rita's articles had always stung for him, or if it was just this one.
She decided to probe him first.
'Do you mean financially? I think we're doing fairly well. Or do you still mean to buy the Cannons?'
'No, I'm not talking about the money. I mean… well…' He struggled for a moment, seemingly trying to put his thoughts into words, until Hermione clucked her tongue impatiently.
'I know what you mean. Are you really going to give Skeeter that much credit?' she asked, a little more harshly than she'd meant to. 'You know her, Ron. That vile hag—if it were my choice, she'd be living off grass in a terrarium at Luna's. Instead, she feeds on poorly researched facts, filling the blanks with lies of her own. For Merlin's sake, she said you worked for the Ministry only two years, disregarding the previous two years that you spent training and helping out before officially getting your badge. Everybody knows that, yet she casually omits that piece of information to belittle you. If you were Minister for Magic, she'd still find a way to do it.'
'This is not about Skeeter,' Ron said, though he wasn't meeting her eyes. 'It's only… maybe I should've stayed for a while longer, do my part in building a better world by capturing more Death Eaters… instead of hiding in a jokes shop.'
Hermione felt as if someone had slapped her: she had never heard him speak like that about his job.
'Hiding? I thought you worked there. Is that how you really feel?' Ron didn't answer. 'Ron, I… you don't have to do anything. You already did your part in building a better world, and working with George, you still do. You don't owe anything to anyone.'
'I owe it to Fred. To you, to Rose and Hugo,' he said stubbornly.
'You've amply paid whatever debt you felt you had! You don't owe us anything but your happiness.' She took both of his hands and forced him to look at her. 'When you told me you wanted to leave the Aurors, you said you thought it'd make you happier to work with George. And I didn't object because I want you to be happy, more than I could ever want wealth, or recognition, or anything else. If you now think it'd make you happy to work again for the Ministry, I'll still stand by you. But I don't think that's what you want.'
'Are you unhappy?'
His face broke into a genuine grin before he replied, 'How can you even ask that? Of course not.'
'Then don't let Skeeter or anyone get into your head.'
Ron rubbed the heel of his hand against his tired eyes, then nodded resolutely.
'Yeah, sorry. I was being thick.'
She really could not blame him. Hermione had found the article ridiculous at best, and she had laughed with the others as well... but none of it was a joke she'd actually enjoyed. Rita's insinuations that she was a careerist of questionable merit were nothing compared to her jabs at Ron, even when they were completely untrue.
Hermione couldn't believe how the Daily Prophet could have hired her back, after everything. True, Witch Weekly had been the only job offer Skeeter had for a couple of years following the war, and now she wasn't allowed to write for other than the gossip column. But The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore had been a big seller that gave her some respite after the fat fine she had to affront once Hermione outted her as an unregistered Animagus, and Rita had never stopped being Rita.
'You don't have to apologize to me. Next time we see her you can give her the two-fingered salute for both of us. I promise I won't lecture you—as long as you don't let Rose and Hugo see it.'
'Oh, I don't know if I should be allowed to be out there with people. Remember, I'm mental, I could lash out in public,' he said casually, his humour evidently restored.
'Then I'd have to do as Ginny and resort to physical violence to make you behave,' Hermione declared, a corner of her mouth turning up.
Ron started laughing at that, leaning forward as his body shook.
'I… just remembered… Ginny will be commenting the match with Rita on Friday… I can't bloody wait for it!'
Hermione rolled her eyes and waited for him to stop wheezing.
'Might be worth going after all, besides to cheer against your muscular, handsome ex-boyfriend.'
'You think Viktor is handsome?' asked Hermione, the merriment now infecting her own voice. 'Do you ever look at yourself in the mirror?'
'Yes, and I do not see my hair thinning, by the way!'
'That's because it isn't; next time don't let your mum cut it,' Hermione replied, running her hands through Ron's short locks, her fingers softly raking his scalp. 'I still find your "famous ginger hair" very... alluring.'
'Woman, are you trying to get into my pants?' he said with a smirk.
'Maybe. Remember, I'm a femme fatale who toys with the affections of young men.'
'Damn right you are,' Ron whispered, tightening his embrace around her and rubbing his hands across her back to keep her warm, while he kissed along her jaw line and down her neck.
'Can we please go inside? It's too cold and I'm not wearing a bra.'
'What did you have to say that for?'
'What? I always sleep without a bra, Ron, that's hardly sexy.'
'Yeah, but we're not always sharing a room with the kids; I can't even touch you,' he protested.
Hermione thought of the small lounging area separated from the kitchen that, while not fully private, was the best offer they had.
'Okay, if we go now, we can snog in the sofa and you can touch me, but that's it.'
'Actually, that article really upset me. I could use some... debugging,' he said with a smirk, as Hermione disentangled herself from him and stood up, 'I was hoping we could test one of the new Invisibility Cloaks we got in the shop, reinforced charm…'
'You're kidding?' Ron got to his feet and shook his head solemnly. 'See, these are the kind of things about your job that Skeeter will never appreciate.'
He grabbed her hand and led her inside, turning to wink at her as he said 'Do you want me to tip her off?'
'If you do, your hair will be thinning for real,' she only half-jokingly threatened him. The less Skeeter mentioned them in her petty articles, the more chances she had of not ending up in another jar.