A/N: There are many people to thank for bringing this project to fruition. First of all, I'd like to thank my beta, Daily Prophet Reporting, for the wonderful grammar lessons, and the correction of the great Quidditch spelling mishap. Sure, my beta might be obsessive, but I'm learning more from him than I did in 12 years of public school English.
Secondly, I'd like to thank BeckiSoup, who did pre-beta work on this story, and all my stories. Couldn't ask for a better younger sister than that.
And of course, I have to thank my fiancée, without whom, this project never would have happened. This story started because she needed a bedtime story to de-stress from Grad School applications. Love ya babe.
Finally, I thank JKR for being kind and benevolent and letting us all play in her charming universe. I promise I'll put the characters back when I'm done playing with them. No money is being made here; this is purely for the joy of writing.
December, 1996, Sixth Year
Harry was getting a headache as he trudged out to Quidditch practice. It was bad. It was really bad, incredibly bad. In fact, if Voldemort had showed up in front of him at that moment, Harry would have been tempted to stand still and insult him, just so the Dark Wizard would kill him.
The Yule Ball was only a week away now, and Ron still hadn't asked Hermione.
Ron and Hermione had seemed different when they arrived at Hogwarts at the beginning of sixth year. They still argued a lot, but there was a new kind of tension in the air. Harry (and others) had always known this would happen – it was a matter of when and not if. But now, with a perfect opportunity on the agenda for Ron to make a move, he'd suddenly forgotten he was a Gryffindor.
Hermione, on the other hand, was getting upset. Then again, upset may have been too weak a word to describe it.
She'd been dropping broad hints for about two weeks. In the last week, though, she'd done everything except ask Ron. Ron continued to play dense and Harry wasn't sure why.
The last straw had come when they were all sitting in the common room the night before. Ron was studying. Once, just once, he had looked like he might say something. But then he went back to his book. The air was so oppressive in the common room that most of the other Gryffindors had gone elsewhere to study. Finally, Hermione had slammed her book shut and spun on Neville.
"Neville, I need a partner for the ball," she said. "Will you go with me?"
Neville looked at her like she was stark raving mad, but stammered apologetically, "Sorry Hermione…I'm already going with Luna." She smiled at him, congratulated him, and then, throwing a glare at Ron, stomped into the girls' dormitory. The slamming of the door echoed throughout the tower.
Then, as Harry had left for Quidditch practice today, Hermione stopped him.
"Harry, I need a partner for the ball. Will you go with me?"
Harry wanted no part whatsoever of being between whatever was going on with Ron and Hermione. None. Zip. Zilch. He thought quickly…very quickly.
"I uh….well, normally…but Hermione, I'm already going with someone," he said.
"Who?" Hermione was shocked.
"Um…." Harry blurted the first name that came to mind. "Ginny. We're going as friends." Hermione's face fell.
"Oh, okay Harry. Have a good time at Quidditch practice then."
"See you later," Harry said. Damn, now I'm going to have to ask Ginny to the ball.
-- -- -- --
After Quidditch practice, Harry caught up with Ginny coming out of the girls' locker room.
"Ginny! Hold up," Harry called.
"What is it Harry?"
Harry took a deep breath. "I was wondering if you'd go with me to the ball…as friends."
"Sure Harry," she said, surprised and pleased. "But I thought you said you were going stag?"
"I was…until I told Hermione I was going with you. I didn't want to hurt her by turning her down without a reason."
Ginny nodded in understanding, her eyes speaking volumes. She could only imagine the disaster it would have been for Harry to go with Hermione to the ball. Better to help him get out of a bad situation. Harry, for his part, was relieved. He'd been terrified that she would already have an escort. He'd overheard her telling some of her friends that she'd turned down Dean, but that didn't mean she didn't have a partner.
"You turned Hermione down?" asked an incredulous Ron, who had come up behind them while they were talking. Harry rolled his eyes at Ginny.
"Will you excuse us, Ginny? I think it's time someone heard some words of wisdom," Harry said.
Ginny laughed. "That's a brave Gryffindor. Good luck Harry." She was still laughing when she walked away.
"You turned Hermione down?" Ron hadn't heard anything Harry and Ginny had said.
"Yes, I did," Harry said matter-of-factly as they began to walk back toward the castle.
"Why? Why did you turn her down? She'd be a wonderful person to go with. She's sweet and funny, and she's not bad looking either…"
"RON!" Harry roared. "Listen to yourself!"
"Huh?" Ron played dumb, but Harry saw his eyes shift nervously. And that told Harry all he needed to know.
"Ron, give me your broom," Harry demanded.
"Why?" Ron asked, handing it over. Harry took it and began to beat Ron on the shoulders with it.
"Ow! HEY!" Ron grabbed his broom back. "What did you do that for?"
"I was trying to beat some sense into that thick brain of yours. I've tried everything but physical violence; it was my last resort."
"You could have broken it," Ron muttered.
"I'd have bought you a better one," Harry said, dismissing the comment. "I'd've used mine, but it's from Sirius." Harry drew his wand. "Now, why haven't you asked Hermione to the ball if she's so wonderful? Why have you forced her to start asking all of us? She was waiting for you to ask her!"
"Me?" Ron croaked.
"Yes you! You are going to walk up to the tower right the hell now and ask Hermione to the ball, or so help me, I'll hex you so badly you won't walk straight for a week."
Harry raised his wand.
"All right, all right, I'm going!"
-- -- -- --
Hermione was sitting in the common room studying when Ron came back. Just Hermione, just Hermione, Ron tried to tell himself
"Yes Ron?" She looked up at him. Was that hope in her eyes?
"Harry told me…well, Harry said you weren't going with anyone to the ball yet…. Would you go with me?"
Hermione worked her jaw. It wasn't exactly what she had in mind.
Oh Merlin, she's going to turn me down…. I knew it. I'm worthless.
"Yes, Ron, I'll accompany you to the ball," she said primly.
Ron sighed in relief. "Harry was right then. He told me you'd say yes."
"He did, did he?"
"Yeah, he told me that when he threatened to hex me unless I asked you."
Hermione slammed her book shut and stomped off.
"What? What did I say?"
Ron watched her go, confused. But a lazy smile spread across his face. At least she said yes…
Hermione was furious. He had to be threatened to ask her? Was she that repulsive? But he did ask…
-- -- -- --
By the end of the week, Harry was beginning to regret even getting involved. Even though they were now going together, Ron and Hermione were barely speaking except to argue. They had lost 20 house points in potions the Friday of the dance for snapping at each other. Ginny commiserated with Harry in the common room.
"Harry, we've got to get this sorted out." Ginny said. "This is intolerable. They're perfect for each other. Everyone but them knows it!"
"I know, Ginny," Harry said. "But how?"
"I don't know. I really don't know."
-- -- -- --
Harry and Ginny watched Ron and Hermione go to the ball. Ron escorted Hermione like a true gentleman. In fact, one wouldn't have guessed anything was wrong except for the fact that neither of them spoke. They sat at the table with Harry and Ginny and carried on conversations with others at the table but refrained from speaking directly to each other. It was, Harry reflected, one of the most absurd things he had ever seen. And that included Dudley with a pig's tail.
The music stared, and Harry leaned over. "Are you going to ask your partner to dance?"
Ron swallowed nervously. "Uh…right." He looked over at Hermione. "Would you care to dance?"
Harry thought Hermione's eyes would pop out of her head, but she calmly said, "That would be nice, thank you."
Harry and Ginny watched from the table as they got up to dance. "A box of chocolate frogs says they don't make it through the first dance," Ginny said to Harry. Harry grimaced.
-- -- -- --
Merlin, she's beautiful. It's a crime that she's here with a prat like me, Ron was thinking. When is she going to realize I'm…what am I anyway? Just a nobody. I certainly don't deserve a girl like her.
He is very handsome, Hermione was thinking. I wonder why he waited around to ask someone. He could have had his pick. Instead, he had to be threatened to ask me. He probably wanted to go stag and play the field, but Harry was trying to be sweet and make sure I had someone to go with.
"You look nice tonight," Ron finally said. Hermione was stunned.
"Why thank you," she said. "I guess I'm not so hideous after all, am I?"
"What?" Ron shook his head as if he hadn't heard right.
"Well, I figured if you had to be threatened to ask me to the ball, I must be pretty hideous looking." Hermione was angry now. People began to look at them.
"I never said you were!" Ron retorted.
"So why did you have to be threatened with hexing for you to actually ask me to the ball?"
Couples around them had stopped dancing, and others were beginning to notice. Including Professor Snape. He started toward them.
"Severus!" McGonagall snapped. "Don't you dare."
"They are causing a disturbance, Professor," Snape explained.
"They're sorting this thing out, finally. Do you want peace in your classroom or not?" McGonagall asked exasperatedly. Snape reluctantly sat back down.
"Well, if you were so interested in finding someone to go with, why did you wait so long before asking people?" Ron asked.
"Because I was waiting for you to ask me, you oversized git! Why didn't you ask me sooner?"
"Because I was scared!" Ron roared.
"Scared? You were scared of me? Great, now I'm scary. I must be a terror to small children and animals…" Hermione went on.
Harry and Ginny were somewhere between amused and terrified. If this came off badly, they would never, ever, have any peace again. Something had to give.
Ron watched Hermione yell at him. She was really beautiful like this. He couldn't believe she was actually waiting for him to ask. Could that mean…? Her eyes were flashing and they sparkled.
"Hermione, listen…I was scared because…"
"No, you listen, Ronald Weasley. Just because you think you're so great…
"…Doesn't give you the right…"
"…To go stomping on people's feelings…."
Ron gave up, leaned in, and briefly saw Hermione's eyes go wide. Then he kissed her.
Harry and Ginny's mouths dropped open, and stunned silence descended on the Great Hall. McGonagall drew her wand and muttered a spell. Severus Snape suddenly found he couldn't rise from his chair.
Ron was lost in the tenderness of Hermione's lips, which tasted so sweet. He'd wondered what this would be like. He was vaguely aware that this might be his only chance, so he enjoyed it before he finally broke the kiss.
Hermione stared at him, eyes wide, lips tingling.
"I was trying to say I was scared to ask you because I liked you so much. I was afraid you'd turn me down. I'm not much, after all, Hermione. I've got no money, and nothing going for me. I'm a nobody," Ron whispered.
Hermione was stunned. Her mouth was hanging open and she touched her lips with her fingers, staring at him in disbelief. She blinked rapidly and looked as if she was vainly trying to process everything that had just happed. He liked her?He liked her; the big, stupid oaf liked her! Of all the stupid, brainless…She wound up and slapped him. The room gasped. Harry and Ginny groaned.
Ron reeled. "I suppose I deserved that," he muttered. He started to turn when Hermione grabbed his face with both her hands and kissed him back.
Ron was vaguely aware of what seemed like fireworks going off in his head. When they finally broke apart for air again, Hermione was shaking her head at him.
"I should have known," she was saying. "And here I thought you really didn't like me. I waited for you to ask me for a month. It never occurred to me that you would honestly think I would turn you down."
"Hermione," Ron said hesitantly, "why did you slap me?"
"For making me think you didn't like me, you big git." She glared at him. "I've been thinking all week the only reason you asked me was because Harry threatened to hex you. I thought you thought I was hideous or something."
"No," Ron stammered. "I never thought that. I thought you'd turn me down because I have nothing to offer. I'm just…just…" he shrugged, "a nobody."
Hermione shook her head. "So you thought you were doing me a favor."
"You are such a man," she sighed. "Doing all the wrong things for all the right reasons."
"So you really like me then?" Ron couldn't believe it.
Ron felt like he could fly without a broom. He wrapped her up in a warm embrace. "Good, because I really like you. Have for a long time."
"Oh, Ron." She kissed him gently.
Harry and Ginny were standing on the table and leading the other Gryffindors in cheering. Ron and Hermione became dimly aware of the cheering and clapping around them, and they both turned bright red. They made their way over to the Gryffindor table where Ron glared at Harry until he and Ginny climbed down off the table and the crowd had dispersed.
"All those that are royally mortified, please raise your hands," Ginny said. Ron and Hermione raised hands, both still flushed scarlet, alternating glares between Harry and Ginny and smiling at each other.
"I'm going to get you for this Harry," Ron said.
"Why?" Harry laughed. "If it hadn't been for me, you'd both have ended up going stag and glaring at each other all night. At least because you came together you've had a chance to sort things out."
Ron paused. "I'll think of a reason." Harry laughed.
"Have some more chicken, mate," Harry said, standing and placing another drumstick on Ron's plate. "C'mon Ginny, let's go to the punch bowl for a minute, leave these two alone to talk."
There was a silence.
"So Harry really threatened to hex you?" Hermione asked.
"Yes," Ron said, looking at her. "I was yelling at him for turning you down. And he yelled at me a little, and hit me with my broom. Told me I was being a prat and to remember I was a Gryffindor. But I was still scared. I figured you wouldn't want to go with me."
"Of course I wanted to go with you Ron! I was thinking you really didn't like me after all. I mean, I had thought things were starting to change with us, and then you make me wait…."
"I thought it was my imagination, wishful thinking. I couldn't even begin to imagine what a bright, clever witch like you would see in me. I mean, I don't have much going for me. Just Quidditch, I suppose. And the fact that I'm Harry Potter's best mate, but that really doesn't mean much to you anyway."
Hermione shook her head. "You have so much to learn about yourself, Ron. In some ways, I'm surprised you're this self-deprecating, but I like the fact that you're so modest. I mean, you've done a lot of good things. Brave things. You're the one who saved me and Harry from that troll first year. And the chess game? And then last year in the Department of Mysteries? They told me how worried you were about me, even after you got hexed."
"And then I got attacked by giant brains."
"But you're brave and loyal, and I really admire that."
"Yes, Ron. Really."
"Because, I mean, what's not to like about you? You're the cleverest witch in our year, and you're brave, and you're witty, and you're as sharp as a tack, and you're even very pretty." Hermione blushed. "I figured you could do better than me."
"Oh, Ron. You're so cute."
He blushed. "Well, Hermione…I guess…it's a little early, but when the next Hogsmeade weekend comes up, will you go with me?"