"Two weeks, three days, four hours, and nineteen and one-half minutes."
"Until what, Ron?" Hermione looked up from her Transfiguration notes to see him marking 1st March in his homework planner with red ink. The table, located in one corner of the Gryffindor common room, was covered with stacks of notes and reference books.
"I'll be a legal wizard then, able to apply for my Apparation licence and do magic at home. Seventeen, Hermione!" Ron closed his eyes, a look of utter bliss spreading across his face.
"Yes, well, if you ever want a job, I'd advise you to do more schoolwork. I haven't seen you working as you should be, if you want to get decent NEWTs."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Please! We've got over a year until our NEWTs. Besides, I've more important things to do."
Hermione narrowed her eyes. "I hardly think Quidditch practice is ‘more important' than studying."
Ron looked slightly uncomfortable. "I wasn't out on the Quidditch pitch, I'll have you know!"
"Then where were you? You missed most of dinner. You must have been outside, because I saw your cloak when you took it upstairs earlier; it was filthy and dripping wet."
Ron looked down at his planner, fiddling with its pages and mumbled, "I was busy."
~@~ ~@~ ~@~
Ron Weasley had to be the most infuriating boy on the planet, Hermione decided. Not only did he procrastinate about doing any homework, whilst being able to recite the Cannons' winning scores and League positions for the last 127 years, he managed to act completely oblivious to the fact that she was a girl, unless it was either convenient for him, or she made him painfully aware of the fact.
Hermione sighed inwardly. Knowing Ron, he didn't even know what day it was, apart from it being 15 days to his birthday. Seamus and Lavender were busy snogging, and the new necklace Ginny was wearing was undoubtedly a Valentine's Day present from Harry, yet Ron was focussing entirely on his plate, scoffing down his breakfast at a record pace.
Ron suddenly stood up, grabbing a last piece of toast and slinging his bag over his shoulder.
"Where are you going, Ron?"
"I just realised I forgot to pack my Transfiguration homework. See you in class!" With that, he rushed out of the Hall.
~@~ ~@~ ~@~
As Hermione walked with Harry to Charms that afternoon, she decided that Ron was definitely avoiding her. He'd been evasive for over a week now, but today he hadn't even sat next to her in Transfiguration as usual, and had been disappearing after every lesson and meal. There were Demiguises that were easier to find.
Just before Professor Flitwick closed the door and started marking the roll, Ron rushed in and plopped down next to Dean, breathing heavily, as if he'd run across half the school. He was unquestionably up to something. Hermione decided that she would confront him about it after the lesson.
The lesson felt even longer than History of Magic usually did. Hermione kept glancing at Ron, but he seemed to be completely focussed on the lesson for once, paying careful attention to Professor Flitwick. Her quick glances at his notes even showed them to be legible!
After the bell rang, as everyone else filed out, Ron walked up to talk to Professor Flitwick, sending her a glare that clearly read ‘Get out of here, now. This is private.' Hermione readjusted her bag and walked out. "I'll talk to you later, Ron Weasley," she muttered.
Later, as Hermione worked on a particularly nasty Potions essay in the common room, Ron pushed the portrait hole open and headed towards his dormitory. Hermione dropped her quill and stood up, determined to talk to Ron before he had a chance to disappear again.
"Ronald Weasley! Come here, right now!" Hermione noticed several of the younger students pick up their work and head out the portrait hole, or up their dormitory stairs. It did not deter her.
Ron turned around, looking her straight in the eye. "Yes, Hermione?" His tone was polite, but guarded.
"Where have you been? You've been dashing around everywhere, and every time I try to talk to you, you've disappeared on me! I've hardly seen you; it's like you're avoiding me!"
"It's none of your business." Ron turned away, a look of annoyance on his face.
"No, but I do worry when one of my friends spends his time disappearing! I want to know what's wrong. Not only that, but you've been neglecting your prefect duties. You can't supervise students when you're gallivanting off!
"Fine! You want to know what I've been up to? I'll show you then. Come on!" Ron stalked out of the common room. Hermione found herself having to sprint after him, trying to keep up, as he twisted and turned through the corridors.
"Slow down! Ron, you're going too fast!"
Ron turned the corner, not changing his pace. Infuriated with the fact he was ignoring her, and that he still had not told her what had been going on, Hermione lost her temper and started yelling. "What is wrong with you? You've been avoiding Harry and me all week! I barely saw you today; you kept disappearing!"
Ron suddenly turned, walking past her and back down the corridor at a slower pace.
"Don't you dare ignore me! You said that you'd tell me what's going on! I want to know what you've been doing, right NOW!" Hermione stamped her foot, fully aware that she was acting like a small child throwing a temper tantrum.
He turned around and headed back towards her, a small smile on his face. "You do realise we're outside the Room of Requirement?" he said, as the door materialised.
"Oh, very clever, Ron. I can see, you know -" Hermione's words trailed off as Ron opened the door, revealing a cosy little sitting room. Ron grabbed one of her arms and forcibly propelled her inside, pushing her towards one of the couches.
She turned and sank down, muttering "Don't push so hard… ow…" under her breath. As she looked up at Ron, he began fidgeting nervously under her gaze, almost as if she were Professor McGonagall or his mother.
"Erm, Hermione? I've, well, I've been thinking lately, as I'm almost an adult now, and well, you know how you kissed me before that Quidditch match?" Ron looked even more flustered. "I know you kissed Harry at the station earlier that year and I'd like to know howyoufeelabouthim," the words rushed out, tripping over each other, "BecauseIreallyreallylikeyou, and" he took a deep breath, "as it's Valentine's Day, I thought you might like a present, even if it's from someone who doesn't have bad eyesight and get yearly appointments with the nearest Dark Wizard."
Ron walked over to a side table and picked up a white box, tied carefully with a gold-edged red ribbon, then carried it back and placed it gently in her lap. Hermione tugged the ribbon undone and cautiously lifted the lid of the box. "Oh," was all she could say.
"I know they're not roses or orchids or something else traditional, but I can't afford them. I've been helping Professor Sprout out in the greenhouses every day this past fortnight, and she said I could have these."
Nestled in the box were half a dozen small branches, each with several twigs on them. At the end of each twig was a snow-white bell, with tiny gold dots decorating the edges of each petal. When she gently lifted one branch out, the flowers tinkled, and the petals turned a soft pink colour, beginning at the stem of each flower, then slowly spreading down the bell, the top darkening as the colour spread further.
"They're blushing snowbells," Ron said. "Professor Sprout said that the warmth of sunlight or a person's touch makes them blush pink like that. They only start to bloom when winter's almost over. I asked Professor Flitwick, and he showed me a charm so they won't fade; they'll keep their blossoms forever, if you're careful. Are they all right?"
Hermione stared at the blossoms, then carefully put them back in the box.
"You stupid, stupid idiot!" she sobbed, moving the box off her lap and standing up. "Harry's like a brother to me! How could you think…." she flung her arms around Ron's neck, crying unrestrainedly into his shoulder. "I love you, Ron Weasley, and those flowers are the best present anyone could have given me today." She burst into fresh sobs, snuffling into his chest.
Ron awkwardly wrapped one of his arms around her. As he sat down on the couch, narrowly missing the box, she flopped down alongside him, practically howling. She felt Ron slip a hand under her chin and gently lift it until her eyes were level with his. Another freckled hand brushed her hair away, tucking it haphazardly behind her ears. "Shh, Hermione. I'm sorry that I'm such a prat, and didn't do anything earlier. Will you ever forgive me?"
As Hermione sniffled, Ron leant over and kissed her.
Author's Note: That's my entry, however hard it was to make sure enough sentences made it in there and that I didn't go over the word limit, again. Thanks to my pre-beta, Blue, and my beta, OHGinnyfan, for all their help with this, especially in reducing the commas I spread through my work as plentifully as weeds.