Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair as he stared at the bank deposit slip George had sent via express owl earlier in the day. Currently, it lay open on the roll-top desk Harry sat at in the Grimmauld Place library. Why can't George understand that I don't want to be his partner, silent or not? Never did, he whinged silently to himself. I didn't want the money after the Tournament and I don't want it now!
Suddenly, an idea came to him. I wonder… It was worth pursuing and the more he thought about it, the more it made him grin. He certainly didn't need the money and even though he knew Ron understood how he felt, George stubbornly refused to stop depositing Harry's ten percent of the profits every month in his vault. A year after the shop had reopened, business was booming and the sums deposited weren't all that little any more.
I wonder if it will work… Harry thought as he extinguished his lamp and stood gathering together the deposit slip, his books and the essays he needed to turn in the next day. He shoved the lot into his old school bag and dropped it next to the stairs leading down to the entrance hall. Suddenly exhausted, he yawned, thinking about the warm spot Ginny always made on his side of the bed when he was up late learning about obscure evidence detection spells or how to detect which Dark Magic spells had been cast on a suspect or how to break down unknown potions without them blowing up in his face.
"That you, Harry?" Ginny's sleepy voice reached him as he started climbing towards their bedroom.
"Yes. Coming, love," he called back.
Moments later, he crawled onto the warm spot and reached for his wife of two months. Their arms entwined as Ginny's head found its favourite spot on his shoulder. With a contented sigh, Harry closed his eyes and was asleep almost instantly.
"George, can I have a word?" Harry asked the next day as he strode into the office of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes.
George looked up from the sandwich he was munching on. "Sure thing, Harry. What's up?" he asked as he brushed some crumbs from the ledger he'd been writing in and then Levitated a pile of books off the only other chair in the room.
Harry sat down and cleared his throat nervously. "George," he began, "I'm going to be frank with you. It bothers me that you're paying me nearly twice what Ron earns each month." Harry hesitated at the frown on George's face. He held up his hand to stop the older wizard from protesting. "Look, silent partner or not, I don't work here. Ron does. His time has to be worth more than my original investment…" He trailed off, hoping George would catch his train of thought.
Incredibly, he did. "So what you're saying is that you want me to give my little brother a big rise in pay?" he asked with a huge grin.
"Yes," Harry answered.
"Then it's done," George said with surprising finality.
"That's it?" Harry asked, astonished. "You mean I don't need to explain all the reasons why I think Ron should get the money?"
Throwing back his head, George let out a loud guffaw. "Harry, Harry, Harry, I couldn't agree more," he chortled, sounding very much like Lockhart had back in second year. "I've thought for a few months now that I'd like to stop depositing the stipend in your account, but I didn't know how to broach the subject with you. It's mostly for the very same reason you've just given me, and for the fact that Fred and I paid you back a long time ago." He chuckled again at Harry's raised eyebrow. "The idea for the stipend was Fred's to begin with, and in the past year, I've been slowly changing things that bothered me that I wouldn't have done if he hadn't insisted upon them. Paying you each month was one of them."
Harry smiled, relieved by George's confession. "Can I make a suggestion?"
Harry pulled a small piece of parchment from his shirt pocket and handed it to George. "This is the amount that was deposited in my vault last year. Would it be too much to ask for you to include it in Ron's pay rise?"
Again, George grinned. "Not at all. In fact, that looks exactly like the nudge Ron needs for him to buy the engagement ring for Hermione he's been drooling over at Madam Tilly's Bauble Shop ever since you and Ginny proposed to each other. I swear, that boy is more stubborn than one of Charlie's dragons, thinking he needs to wait another four months before he has the money he needs to propose! All he would have had to do is ask me for the money."
"You know he's too stubborn to do that, don't you?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, I do. He's still too independent for his own good sometimes." George sighed happily. "Well, Harry, Ron will get his rise and your vault will be a little less full from now on. It's been good doing business with you."
"You, too," Harry said. "Now, if you'll sign that piece of parchment, Gringotts will transfer the funds back into your account with the stipulation that they be divided into twelve monthly payments to be deposited in Ron's vault each month."
"You make this too easy," George said, grabbing a quill and signing next to the X. The parchment glowed pink for a few seconds and then disappeared in a flash of sparks.
Satisfied that his best mate was going to get his due, Harry stuck out his hand and the two wizards shook. On his way out of the shop, he waved to Ron, who was surrounded by young customers laden with supplies for the coming school year's pranks.
"Ron!" George called as he entered the shop the next morning by way of the back room fireplace. "Office in ten!"
"Morning to you, too," Ron called back.
George heard the clink of coins in the till and knew his brother was reconciling his drawer. He tapped the kettle hanging in the small fireplace with his wand and a moment later, it began singing merrily as steam poured from its spout.
"What's up?" Ron asked, coming in and flopping down at his desk. He waved his hand in the kettle's direction. "Tea ready?"
"Nearly. Erm, Ron, I've been thinking…" George began.
"No! Really?" Ron interrupted sarcastically.
"Actually, I'm quite serious." George poured water into a slightly rusty iron teapot. He sat down as the tea began to steep. "Ron, I think it's time I start paying you what you deserve. I'm making you a full partner in this firm," he said, getting quickly down to business. He handed Ron a Gringotts bank deposit slip. "Last night, I deposited this additional amount in your vault," he explained, touching the deposit slip. "That same amount will be added to your monthly pay from now on."
Ron's jaw dropped opened and he sat there looking like a beached fish until he finally croaked, "You're kidding!"
"Absolutely not. The shop is doing very well and even with the start-up costs of the Hogsmeade and Manchester locations, there's plenty left over to pay you like I want to," George said, putting as much sincerity into his voice as he could. "Besides, you know how I want the business run so if something goes wrong at one of the new locations, I can send you if I'm contending with something else here. I trust you."
Ron was silent for several long minutes, just staring at the parchment he held. Finally, he looked up at George and asked, "Partner? Why now?"
George understood the question and all the underlying questions Ron wasn't asking. He sighed sadly as thoughts of the last year flitted through his head. When they were gone, he said sincerely, "Because, Ron, I couldn't have reopened the shop without you. Oh, don't look at me like I have a hole in my head! All right, more than one! Seriously, I was absolutely amazed when you came to me the day after Harry's birthday last year and told me that the shop was ready for my inspection. Fred would never have thought to clean out the Death Eater damage before allowing me to go back in—"
"I couldn't let you see that," Ron interrupted. "Harry and Ginny and Hermione agreed with me and were more than willing to help me."
"That's just it," George said, leaning back in his chair. He gestured towards his brother. "You took on the hard jobs Fred always shuffled off on me. You took on everything Fred used to do and then assumed responsibilities I hadn't even thought of! You are the one who takes the customers' comments to heart and comes up with improved and new products because you care about the quality of the merchandise we have to offer."
"Yeah, I guess I did… do… whatever…" Ron agreed.
George continued, "And on top of all that, you put up with me when someone's stray comment would send me into depression and I just wanted to give up, close the shop and never open it again. That sort of support shouldn't go unnoticed.
"Ronniekins, I know you don't sleep at night sometimes because you're planning our newest products and I know I haven't been paying you what your time and caring are worth to me. Please, let me make you my partner and give you a decent salary for the work you do around here. You're so much more than just a shop clerk!"
Ron looked down at the parchment and back up at George. "You really think what I do around here is worth this much?" he asked, shaking the parchment a little.
"You wouldn't be holding that piece of parchment if I didn't think you were worth every Knut," George said sincerely.
His brother was silent for several long seconds: he seemed to be mentally calculating something, and then with a grin, he stood up and asked, "Thanks. Can I have the morning off?"
Chuckling, George said, "Sure. Be back by a quarter after one." Then, just as Ron reached the door, he added, "I hope she says yes."
Ron's ears turned crimson and a moment later, the front door banged shut. George smiled sadly to himself as he thought, Sorry, Fred. I know paying Harry was your idea, but I just couldn't keep it up. It was time for a change. I hope you can forgive me for letting go of yet another of your ideas.
On those thoughts, George closed the office door, parted the beaded curtain that separated the back rooms from the shop and went to turn the "closed" sign to "open", signalling the beginning of the workday.
Ron paced in front of Madam Tilly's Bauble Shop, waiting impatiently as the elderly witch inside undid several locks and locking spells on the door of her shop. He glanced down at the crumpled deposit slip he still held, still not quite believing what was written on it. The amount printed on the paper was three times his normal monthly pay and he had to wonder where George had found the money. Yes, the business was doing quite well, so well, in fact, that the new Manchester and Hogsmeade branches were scheduled to open in a week's time, just in time for the Hogwarts rush the last two weeks of the month.
The bell announcing the opening of the jewellery shop door caught his attention as the witch poked her head out into the street. "May I help you, young man?" she inquired, holding the door open wide for Ron.
"Yes, yes, you can," Ron said eagerly as he stepped across the threshold and made a beeline for the wedding sets displayed in their glass cabinet. "I'd like to buy an engagement ring and wedding band."
The thought of selling such an expensive item seemed to perk the old woman up because she straightened her back and seemed to prance behind the counter. With a flourish of her wand, the cabinet in question opened and several trays of wedding sets floated out. "Coloured gems or diamonds?" she asked.
Ron pointed to the diamonds. "I know the one I want," he said as he scanned the tray of diamonds. His eyes came to rest on an enormous round diamond surrounded by a circle of smaller stones set in white gold. For some reason, it reminded him of his mother's clock and he thought Hermione would appreciate the symbolism. He reached into the tray for the ring and was horrified when his hand struck an invisible barrier and then tingled and began to turn violently purple.
"Not so fast, young man!" scolded the witch. "No one touches my merchandise before I do! If I bring the ring out of its case, and you abscond with it, I know where you live, where you work and how much is in your vault and I won't hesitate to report you to Magical Law Enforcement! Have I made myself clear?"
Abashed, Ron nodded and turned to go. "Very. I'll take my business elsewhere," he said angrily.
As he slammed the door he thought he heard the old witch murmur, "Oh, dear!"
Once outside, he stomped towards the Leaky Cauldron, intent on Disapparating to Hogsmeade or Edinburgh to find Hermione's ring. He reached the entrance to the Alley and popped out of existence to reappear in the courtyard of the Wizarding pub, The Castle Sentry, that guarded the entrance to Edinburgh's magical shopping district. He knew there were several jewellers available to him and he spent the next hour combing the shops looking for what he wanted. He finally left, feeling quite disappointed and deflated, the newness of his new-found wealth having been tarnished by the absence of anything that attracted his attention, as well as the first witch's cursing—the purple stain was still on his left hand and seemed to be creeping towards his elbow!
It was nearly eleven o'clock when he Apparated to Hogsmeade and strode into the only jewellery shop in the village.
"Welcome to Macintosh and Sons. What can I do for you?" asked the wizard standing behind display cases. "I'm Gerald Macintosh, the proprietor of this shop."
Ron stated his purpose and was directed to the correct area. He kept his hands in his pockets because his left hand was now entirely purple.
"Do you see anything you like?" Gerald asked.
"Gimme a minute, please," Ron requested. He felt a mysterious pull towards the rings in the case, as if one of them was truly calling to him. Unfortunately, none of the rings resembled the one that had enticed him so in the first shop and after the dizzying array of jewels he'd looked at in the last hour, he was highly confused about what he wanted to purchase for Hermione. With a frustrated sigh, he commented, "You have a rather large display."
"I do," Gerald agreed. "May I make a suggestion?"
Ron looked up, hoping he didn't look as lost as he felt. Staying silent, he nodded meekly.
"Think about your witch," Gerald suggested. "Is she the sort who would want something big and flashy on her hand, something that advertises to other witches that she's 'taken', or is something simple and understated more to her liking? Maybe it's something in between the two extremes that would fit her best." He reached into the case and pulled out a ring set with the second biggest diamond Ron had seen that day. It was flanked on each side by a slightly smaller diamond; the whole thing probably would have stuck up nearly an inch above the wearer's hand, Ron reckoned. The sight of it caused him to gulp audibly because it wasn't a ring he could see Hermione wearing.
"Not this one?" chuckled Gerald. He put the gaudy ring back in the case and moved over to pluck up one a few rows over. The diamond was still quite large, but its square cut and less-ostentatious setting was more appealing… but it still wasn't Hermione.
Becoming braver, Ron pointed to a ring in the next row, a much smaller round diamond nestled between two leaves. There was another ring in the same space that was just a band of leaves. "I'd like to see that," he said. "Why are there two rings?"
"The plain ring is the wedding band, the one with the stone is the engagement ring. Would you like to see it?"
"No. That's not my girlfriend either, sir."
"Or maybe it isn't something you'd like to see on her hand for the next one hundred plus years?"
Ron felt his ears turn red. "Yeah, something like that."
The search went on until Ron spied a single diamond at the very bottom of the last case that made him look twice. It had an unusual shape and the wedding band was slim and plain, no extra diamonds or diamond chips, no "frost effects" or Celtic Knot designs, just two simple rings that allowed the diamond to catch the eye.
Drawn to its simplicity, Ron asked, "May I see that one, please?"
"You have very good taste, young man." The ring was placed in Ron's hand and he felt the metal warm to his touch instantly, as if the ring was trying to tell him something. He looked up as Gerald continued, "The diamond is a third karat Marquis cut. It is set in fourteen karat yellow gold." He rattled off a few more facts about the quality of the gem that left Ron wondering what he really was thinking of buying.
"How do I know what you're telling me isn't some gimmick to get me to hand over a large amount of gold and two days after I put the ring on Hermione's finger it turns green?" he asked sceptically.
Laughing, Gerald reached under the counter and brought out a brochure. He extended it to Ron, who had to take it with his left hand, the one he'd kept hidden in his pocket the entire time they'd been looking at the rings. At the sight of Ron's violently purple hand, Gerald let out a whoop of laughter that caused Ron to put both the rings and the brochure down on the counter and stick his hands back in his pockets. He glared at Gerald. "What's so funny?" he demanded, taking a step backwards towards the door.
It took a moment, but Gerald finally said, "I see you've been to Madam Tilly's Bauble Shop in Diagon Alley."
"And what if I have?" Ron asked suspiciously.
"Tell me… have you made it a practice to stop by that shop's window more than once?" Gerald asked.
Ron raised an eyebrow, wondering where this was going.
"Oh dear," Gerald continued. "Old Tilly Cleary spotted you as a potential thief and marked you the instant you set foot in her shop."
Embarrassment made Ron's ears turn very warm. "She did?" he asked. "Erm, I started stopping by her windows two, three times a week about six months ago on my way to my brother's shop, which is across the street."
"And perhaps you spent some time trying to peer at the price tags so you'd get an idea of how much you had to save in order to buy something suitable for your witch?"
Ron hung his head. "Yeah, that about sums it up. My brother… erm, I wasn't… oh, bloody hell, I'm Ron Weasley. I'm a shop clerk at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes!" he finally confessed.
"You wouldn't perhaps be Bill Weasley's younger brother, would you?" When Ron nodded, he continued, "Bill purchased his ring here several years ago. I also knew you're not his brother, Percy, because last week I sold him an engagement ring as well."
Ron stared at Gerald incredulously. "Percy's proposing to Preposterous Penelope?"
The nickname caused the proprietor to laugh again. "No, Mr Weasley, your brother actually purchased his ring for a witch of a different name. Has he introduced her to the family?"
"I see…" he pulled out his wand. "Tell me… are you interested in that ring and would you like me to reverse Tilly's curse?"
Easing his left hand out of his pocket, Ron held it out to Gerald as he said, "Yes, to both. Why would she curse her potential customers?"
Gerald flicked his wand at the purple stain and it immediately vanished. Ron heaved a sigh of relief. "During the war, there were people who weren't very scrupulous about absconding with merchandise such as diamond rings or valuable necklaces and bracelets. To protect our stock, the Wizarding Jewellers' Association mandated that we identify potential thieves and mark them with the identifying stain. I'm afraid Old Tilly seems to think the war is still on and that she needs to report potential thieves to the Auror Department. You're a marked man, Mr Weasley. Perhaps the prankster has himself been pranked?"
Ron couldn't help the chuckle that escaped him. "I wonder how long it will be before my brother-in-law comes knocking on my door?" he wondered aloud.
"Are you talking about Auror Potter?"
"The one and only. How long do I have?"
"If you move fast and propose to Hermione—I'm assuming that's who you're purchasing the ring for—by noon today, you should be quite safe because Old Tilly won't have filled out all the parchmentwork or turned it in until about three o'clock today. It'll take another hour for the poor Auror trainee responsible for going through each form to decide who is legit and who is a potential suspect worth keeping an eye on."
At this, Ron heaved a sigh of relief. "I'm glad Harry and his colleagues won't be chasing me down until I'm done proposing," he said. "So… how much is this set? I think I would like to have Hermione wear it for the next hundred years, as you put it. For some reason, I think it picked me, just like my wand did," he said.
"Actually, if your Hermione is Hermione Granger, this is the ring she came to look at every time there was a Hogsmeade visit last year."
Ron felt his jaw drop and he murmured, "So that's why she and Ginny insisted on meeting Harry and me at the Three Broomsticks instead of the Hogwarts gates!"
"You assume correctly," Gerald said. "She and your sister would spend time looking at all the rings before going to meet you, but this set is the one Hermione requested to try on most often. I therefore made a notation in my book as to her preference. Does this information influence your decision?"
"If she's chosen the ring, then I choose it, too. Erm, how much is it?" Ron asked as he crossed his fingers behind his back.
Gerald quoted the price and Ron couldn't help smiling: he had enough money in his vault to not only purchase the rings outright, but to put a plan that was forming in his head into action.
As he placed the rings in a padded presentation box, Gerald said, "It's been a pleasure serving you today, Mr Weasley. I hope Arthur and Molly are as pleased with Hermione as you seem to be."
"How do you know my parents?" Ron asked, curiously.
"Arthur purchased Molly's wedding band here as did his father, your grandfather, and your great-grandfather before him. This Hogsmeade branch opened in 1825 and not long after it opened, the first of a long line of Weasley wizards made his way here to purchase their engagement rings for their potential brides."
Ron couldn't help grinning, then. "I reckon I'm upholding the family tradition, just like my brothers," he said as he accepted the small sack from Gerald. "Thanks for explaining things and for getting rid of that purple prank."
"Come back again, Ron," Gerald said.
Ron grinned and waved as he closed the door to the shop.
Hermione looked up from a letter she was writing to see Ron standing on the other side of her desk. She put her quill down and gave him a big smile.
"Come have lunch with me, Hermione," he said invitingly.
"Lunch? Ron, it's only half eleven. I don't get to take my lunch for another hour," she protested.
"I've already cleared it with your supervisor," Ron said, as he bounced on the balls of his feet. "Come away with me, please."
Hermione looked at the mound of parchment still sitting in her "In" basket and knowing she would regret it later, acquiesced with a small smile. "You won't be impatient when I have to work overtime tonight to get all of this done?" she asked.
"Harry and Ginny hold up dinner at Mum's all the time," Ron said, "so why shouldn't we, for once?"
Hermione considered this and finally put down her quill and rolled up her parchment. "You're very persuasive, you know that?" she asked as she opened a drawer to retrieve her handbag.
Ron grinned at her again. "I try," he said simply. He held out his hand and together they strolled out of her office.
"Where are we going?" Hermione asked when they reached the Atrium and headed for the Apparition point. "Don't we usually go to the cafeteria?"
Ron stopped walking and turned to face her. "Hermione, I'm taking you someplace special because we have something to celebrate: George made me a full partner in the shops this morning—"
Hermione didn't let him finish his thought. Squealing loudly, she threw her arms around her boyfriend's neck. "Oh, Ron! That is such great news!" she exclaimed, causing the people around them to look in their direction.
Ron hugged her briefly, his eyes taking in the attention they were attracting, and murmured in her ear, "Can we get out of here?"
Hermione pulled back to find that his ears had turned bright red. She cleared her throat and glared at the lookers-on. Most took the hint and continued on their way.
"So… where are we going?" she asked when they were next in line.
"You'll see. You'll see," Ron whispered to her and then added, "We need to Side-Along-Apparate, so take my arm."
She did, and away they went. A long moment later, they materialized on a rocky promontory overlooking a very familiar lake: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry graced the opposite shore while the sun sent sparkles winking along its surface. The dappled shade from nearby trees provided a welcome change from the noonday heat. However, the only thing going through Hermione's mind was, "Ron, you can't Apparate onto Hogwarts' grounds! How? How?"
Before she could launch into a full academic lecture, Ron stilled her protests by kissing her soundly. "Permission. McGonagall," he murmured between kisses.
That settled, Hermione relaxed a little and began to enjoy herself. At length, they broke apart. However, instead of doing anything about providing her the promised lunch out of the rather large picnic basket sitting on the ground nearby, he took her hands in his and said, "Hermione, I've been planning this day for weeks and months, wondering when I'd get the chance to really tell you what you mean to me. I love you with everything I am. We've been through so much together, grown up together, gone on 'adventures' with Harry together, survived together, that I just can't wait to ask you a very important question…" At this he paused, seeing that tears were now running freely down Hermione's cheeks.
"Ask me what?" she breathed.
"Hermionewillyoumarrymeandspendtherestofyourlifewithme?" he asked in a breathless rush.
Hermione stood frozen to the spot, letting the question and a wealth of emotion wash over her. Her long silence seemed to be weighing heavily on Ron and she suddenly realized that she needed to answer him!
Yanking her hands from his, she threw herself at her boyfriend. "Yes, Ron, YES!"
Their lips collided. Ron staggered backwards, pulling Hermione with him as he tried to regain his balance. Unfortunately, her forward motion was such that they suddenly felt themselves falling and with a huge splash, they landed in the water. Hermione shrieked in surprise and let go of Ron as they surfaced.
"I'm sorry, Ron," she wailed. "I just ruined everything!"
However, Ron wasn't really paying attention. He had an extremely panicked expression on his face and he seemed to be patting his pockets underwater. "Hermione, it's gone!" he finally croaked. "Your ring. I had it in my hand inside my pocket so I could give it to you easily, and now it's gone!"
Hermione swam over to him. "Calm down, Ron. Let's get out and see if it's on the bank," she suggested, trying to stay calm now herself.
Silently, he nodded, hoisted himself out of the water and then extended a hand to her. She scrambled out after throwing her sodden court shoes onto the bank and hiking her skirt up a bit.
"I don't see the ring," Ron moaned, and he began another bout of frantic patting of his trouser pockets.
Hermione drew her wand. "Let's try Summoning it," she suggested. "What's it look like?"
"It's the one you liked at Macintosh's," Ron answered. "The plain marquis cut diamond set in yellow gold."
Hermione felt her eyes widen. She knew exactly which ring he spoke of. As simple as it was, the ring was quite expensive. "We'll find it," she said, trying her best to remain positive. She wanted that ring!
Ron pulled his wand from his back pocket, waved it at the lake, and yelled, "Accio lost ring!"
It took a moment for anything to happen. Then, from all over the lake, little circles of yellow and silver surfaced and began zooming towards them.
"What the—" Ron sputtered as the rings began pelting them in their eagerness to reach his hand.
"Ron, I think you Summoned every ring that was ever lost in this lake!" Hermione said, barely containing her giggles. "Ow!" she mumbled, as several slime-covered rings hit her in the forehead. The ooze dripped down her face and she reached for her sodden handkerchief to wipe away the mess.
"I reckon I did," Ron said sheepishly, and then he, too, began to laugh. "Oh, Hermione, you've made me so happy," he said, once their hilarity subsided.
She stepped close to him and wrapped her arms around his waist as the last of the rings landed at their feet. Smiling up at him, she said, "I'm so glad, for you've made me happy, too."
Ron swept a hand at the ground littered with rings. "Any ideas on how to sort out this lot?" he asked.
"Hmmmm. You Summoned every ring in the lake," she mused. "What are our chances that most of them aren't diamond engagement rings?"
Ron grinned. "I'd say pretty good, considering this lake is at Hogwarts."
"Yes, but the school has been around for more than a thousand years," Hermione countered. "Wouldn't you think a diamond ring a year is lost?"
"True, but we only want the gold ones," Ron smirked. He let go of her and took quite a few steps back. Raising his wand, he Summoned only the silver rings; as they came to him, he directed them into a neat pile at his feet.
"Wow, Ron! When did you learn to do that?" Hermione asked, impressed.
"The first time some kid knocked over four bins of sweets during the lunch rush," he snickered. "Cuts down on squishage, if you catch my drift."
"I do," Hermione said, nodding her approval. "So what are you going to do with the silver rings?"
"Leave them there for now. We can look at them later, if you want."
"Brilliant! May I try now?"
"Sure. Just Summon the group you want and then swirl your wand ante-clockwise while casting your favourite containment spell," he said.
They made a game of it. With each separation, the piles became smaller and smaller.
"Accio plain gold bands!"
"Accio coloured stone gold rings!"
"Accio gold diamond rings!"
"Accio Hermione's engagement ring!" Ron finally cried and held out his hand. From the small pile of diamond rings, a single ring flew towards him. He caught it and inspected it closely.
"Did you find it?" Hermione asked hopefully.
He grinned. "I did." He walked over to her and as she looked on in wonder, he took her left hand in his and went down on one knee. "Hermione, will you marry me?" he asked clearly and concisely this time.
She couldn't help smiling as she answered, "Yes, Ron. I will marry you… splashdowns in the Hogwarts lake notwithstanding."
Ron slipped the ring onto her finger. "We'll stay well away from water for our wedding if you want," he said, and taking her in his arms, he kissed her until she saw stars.
"… and then he asked for the morning off," George reported to the various family members gathered in the sitting room of The Burrow. "I told him to be back by a quarter after one for the afternoon rush, but he never showed up."
"George, you can hardly blame him for absenting himself the entire day," Ginny countered. She slipped her arm around Harry's waist and smiled up at him. "If Hermione accepted, she'd naturally want to share the news with her parents."
"Ginny's right," her mother said with a pleased smile. "I'll hold dinner for another fifteen minutes and then we'll eat without them."
"Sounds good, Molly," Harry said. He turned to Ginny who had just poked him in the ribs. "Yes, dear?"
Ginny crooked a finger, beckoning him to lean closer. "Did you finally talk George into stopping the deposits in our vault?" she whispered.
"I did," he confirmed, making her smile.
"Good. I'm glad," she said quietly.
Harry added, "If what George says is true, Ron and Hermione should be properly engaged by now."
"We'll know when they get here," she smirked, casting a glance around the room, hoping their quiet conversation hadn't been noticed yet. It hadn't, so she asked, "Will you ever tell Ron where the original money came from?"
"If he asks," Harry replied. "Ron understood how I felt about taking a part of their profits, so I think he'll be okay with it, especially since making him a full partner was all George's idea."
He had just finished speaking when they heard the telltale pops of Apparition from the direction of the back garden. Everyone in the sitting room seemed to move towards the kitchen at once, and for a few seconds the crowd at the door prevented anyone from exiting the room. As the kitchen door opened, Ginny elbowed her way past George and came to a stop next to the kitchen table, staring at the bedraggled couple standing just inside the door, clutching each other's hands. At their feet were two rather large cloth sacks.
"What on earth happened to you?" she exclaimed as the rest of the family entered the kitchen.
Ron and Hermione glanced at each other, giggled and then Ron said, "We fell into the Hogwarts lake."
"You did what? I thought you were supposed to propose to her, not take her swimming," George said, making everyone laugh.
"I sort of knocked us over," Hermione said, her face colouring delicately.
"Oh, this sounds good!" George exclaimed. "We'd like the gory details, please."
When the tale had been told, Ron and Hermione each picked up a sack and placed them on the table with a substantial clink.
"Are those the rings you Summoned?" Ginny's dad asked.
Hermione opened a bag and brought out a handful of silver rings. "Ron has the gold ones. Some look quite old, or at least like they've been at the bottom of the lake for a long time," she said.
Looking at her mother, Dad asked, "Molly, do you think you might find the ring you lost among that lot?"
"You mean Aunt Muriel's, the one I still don't hear the end of, even after nearly forty years?" Mum asked, making her children snicker. They all knew the story, of course, of how she'd been playing with it while sitting in a conjured boat Arthur had created. Apparently, the two sixth-years had stayed too long on the lake and it had disappeared before they reached the bank, dumping them in rather deep water. The ring had flown out of Molly's hand and she never saw it again.
"That's the one," Dad said.
Mum reached for the bag of gold rings sitting in front of Ron, drawing it towards her. She peered inside. "Oh my! I'll never find it in this lot!" she said, sounding disappointed.
"Here, Mum, let me show you how I found Hermione's," Ron said. He dumped the rings on the table, scattering them far and wide. "What's it look like, Mum?"
She described the ring set with a green and pink stone.
"Do you think it's a tourmaline?" Hermione asked.
Mum shrugged. "Aunt Muriel didn't know what it was, so I searched the Hogwarts library and discovered it might be a watermelon tourmaline. The book I looked in said it would bring balance back into my life if ever something turned it upside down. After I lost the ring, I didn't think anything of it until Gideon and Fabian were killed," she said. "Then, I wished mightily for it because of the healing properties the stone was said to possess."
"Well, Mum, all you need to do is separate out the coloured stone rings and then find the green and pink ones," Ron said.
Drawing her wand, Mum Summoned a small pile of green stone rings, then sent the rest back into the bag. Another spell attracted only ten tourmaline rings, which she caught in mid-air and began to examine carefully. Everyone in the room was silent as she studied each ring and dropped the unwanted ones back in the bag.
When there were only two left in her hand, she slipped them onto her finger, one at a time, finally dropping one back into the bag and looking up at the group. "I found it!" she announced quietly, a look of awe on her face. "I never thought I would see it again. Thank you, Ron! Thank you, Hermione!"
She held out her hand so everyone could see the stone.
"How did you know which of the two was yours?" Ginny asked.
"There was an inscription on the inside," Mum explained, "'M.P. 1907'. I think she was given the ring when she came of age."
"That would make sense," Hermione said, "since most witches are given rings or necklaces or bracelets when they come of age."
Ginny's mother walked over to Hermione and Ron. With tears in her eyes, she embraced her future daughter-in-law and as she pulled back, she slipped the tourmaline ring from her finger. "Hermione, I gave Ginny a special family ring when she became engaged to Harry. Now it's your turn. Will you accept the ring you helped me recover as my gift to you?" she asked, gently depositing the ring in Hermione's hand.
Hermione closed her fingers around the ring. "Yes, Molly! I accept it," she said, her eyes brimming.
"Take better care of it than I did," Mum said, "and when it's time, pass it on to either your own daughter or future daughter-in-law." The two embraced again as Ginny felt two hot, fat tears silently slip down her own cheeks.
Harry edged closer to her and slipped his arm around her waist. "You okay?" he whispered.
Ginny laid her head on her husband's shoulder. "Mhmm, I am. Seeing Mum pass on her ring makes me very happy," she answered. "Now Mum won't fret so much."
"What became of her ring—a real sore spot with Aunt Muriel—or when Ron will propose to Hermione, or which daughter-in-law to pester about grandchildren, that sort of thing," she answered.
"So the ring is at least one thing off her mind?"
Ginny chuckled quietly as the other members of her family gathered around Ron and Hermione. "At least until she gets it into her head that you and I need to start a family," she smirked, causing Harry to groan. "Come on, Harry, let's elbow our way into the scrum. I want to hug Hermione."
Later that night, Ron sat in Hermione's office thumbing through his old potions book, looking up magical herbs for the prototype of a new wheeze he and George had talked about earlier in the week. Hermione was at her desk, busily completing the letters and files she had not completed that afternoon. The two of them had begged off dinner at The Burrow because they'd actually eaten at her parents' house and now Ron was nibbling on the leftovers from their picnic lunch.
"Almost done," Hermione announced as she closed a book and stacked her parchment rolls in her "Out" basket.
Ron stood up and walked over to her. Taking her in his arms, he held her close and breathed in the scent of her, a mixture of flowers, ink, parchment, and lake water. "You're beautiful, you know that?" he asked.
"I do, Ron, I do." Hermione pulled away. "I feel that way because you tell me so often. If I'm not careful it'll go to my head!"
"And what a pretty head it is!"
Raising an eyebrow, she asked, "Even when it's drenched in lake water?"
"Especially when it's drenched in lake water," he countered. He thought a moment and then added, "You know, I'm going to treasure this day for the rest of my life."
"I am because it's the day we decided to take the plunge together," he said, and before she could say another word, Ron kissed her and this time, he was seeing stars.
A/N: I wrote this story as a response to the many pleas for such a story after Harry and Ginny proposed to each other in Dare. I hope you've enjoyed this bit of fluff and had a few chuckles at Ron and Hermione's expense. I'm looking forward to responding to your reviews.
Many thanks to my pre-beta team of Manatoc Fox, Mistress_Lrigtar, Mutt n Feathers, and RSS, without whom I would have sent a manuscript full of spelling, punctuation and grammar errors to my beta, Aggiebell. Thank you all for helping to make this story the best it can be.