A/N:  I want to see how long this will take me…I started at 9:39.  It's another R/H fic!  YAY!  (Note:  This was written pre-OotP)

Disclaimer:  Not mine, not mine, not mine!  For crying out loud!  It's not mine!

Ron Weasley exchanged an exasperated look with his friend Harry Potter and got out of his seat, chasing after the table's former occupant, who was marching out of the common room without looking at him.  Ron rolled his eyes as he pushed open the portrait, just in time to see her round the corner, on the way to the library.  He stood there and counted to ten, allowing her to get a head start before actually going after her.

"What'd you do this time?" the Fat Lady asked.

Ron shook his head.  "I don't know.  I just said something about Krum and off she went."

"Krum?  That nice young man she went to the Yule Ball with last year?"

Ron sighed.  Apparently, everyone in the world but him shared that opinion.  "Yeah, whatever.  Anyway, I just made a snide comment about him not being here yet – he's coming for Christmas – but there's only a week left, you know, but it was just a joke!  Girls," he added.

The Fat Lady chuckled, although what was amusing about the situation Ron didn't know.  "Of course," he continued, "she's always running out on me, so I suppose I should wait for her to come back."

"Or," she offered, "you could go after her.  Now is the perfect time to catch her alone and ask her to the Ball."

He jumped and stared at the picture, feeling his ears burn.  "What – how'd you know I wanted to –?"

"Trust me, darling, this is one of those very obvious things that we who have been around a long time recognize, and others aren't so quick about."

"Are you saying Dumbledore knows I'm mad about her?" Ron asked.

The Fat Lady offered a wry smile.  "Knowing Albus, he probably predicted the two of you would live the rest of your lives together judging from your first day here."  Nodding down the hall, she added, "I think it's safe to go find her now, dear, so I won't distract you any more."

"Thanks," he said, and set off down the hall.

After a few minutes, Ron reached his destination:  the Hogwarts library.  He went straight inside and walked decisively to the front desk, where Madame Pince, the librarian, was poring through a large, important-looking book.

"Madame Pince?" he asked.

She looked up.  "Oh, Mr. Weasley.  What do you need?"

She was staring at him pointedly, but a smile tugged at the corner of her lips.  "Did Miss Granger come in here?"

"Oh, she instructed me not to tell you that she had come in here."

"Thanks."  He grinned, then pointed to the book, and added, "By the way, Madame Pince, which book is that?"

"Oh, it's the third in the series, Ron," she said with a giggle.  "Tell your Mum I'll send it on as soon as I finish.  Now go find Ms. Granger, Renolds is about to propose to Betsy, even though he knows she'll refuse him."

"I'll deliver the message," Ron promised, then left her to her reading, part of him deciding that if you came in the library enough to be on a first-name basis with the librarian, there was something wrong with you.  Unless you went in looking for someone, like he did, although the familiarity with Irma Pince showed that he came in here far too often looking for the same person.

He wandered around the shelves, immediately dismissing the tables (far too obvious), weaving his way around until the books started to get thicker, and thicker, and thicker, until he came to a wall, where the books were so thick they fit four to a shelf.  Two shelves reached the wall, and in between them, her back pressed against the wall and her nose buried in a very bulky book, was Hermione Granger.  Ron took a moment to just look at her.  She had pushed her bushy brown hair behind her ears and her brown eyes were busy running back and forth across the pages.  Her hands clutched at the book as she propped it up, standing it on her crossed legs to read it.  He knew she wasn't reading it, though, and so he sat down cross-legged and waited for her to look up.  And look up she did, briefly, only to scowl and look back down.

"Hermione," he said patiently.

"Ron," she said edgily.  "Go away, I'm not talking to you."

"Oh, why not?  I'm such a fun person to talk to," he said, attempting to use puppy eyes on her and blink innocently.

"Ron, I've seen that far too many times to be provoked into getting up and going back with you.  I'll just sit here until you apologize."

He sighed and leaned forward, resting his chin on his hands and his elbows on the floor.  "What am I supposed to apologize for?"

"Viktor's still got a week to come visit for Christmas," she said stiffly.  "Not that it matters.  I'm not the only reason he's coming."

"Oh, right," Ron scoffed.  "What else is he coming for, his fan club?"

She looked up quickly, and he got a full glimpse of her face before she dropped back down.  She was too beautiful to spend all her time buried in a book, but he couldn't tell her that.  Krum might be able to, but she had not invested Ron with any such power.  "You know he hates all the attention."

"Then what else is he coming for?"

"Then whom else is he coming for?" she corrected.

"Oh, so you've decided to help me figure this out?"

"Yes, he wants to go to the Ball with someone else."

"Oh," said Ron, so suddenly her head popped back up to stare at him.  "So you're not going to the Ball with anyone?" he said carefully.

She glared at him.  "Why does it matter to you?"

Ouch.  "It doesn't," he said.  "I think I'll just go with the same tactic I did last year."

Hurt flooded her face.  "Well fine," she said stiffly.  "I'll just stay down here, shall I?"

"Oh, come on, Harry or Ginny will want you back and the common room.  Don't make me carry you."  He wanted to carry her.  To feel her pressed up against him…that would be bliss.

She looked back down.  "Like you would."

Shrugging, he unfolded himself and stood; placing a hand behind her neck and a hand beneath her knees faster than she could react, he scooped her up, making her drop her book.  She felt warm, pressed against him, and he wanted to cuddle her closer but didn't dare.  Her arms had instinctively gone around his neck, and she was staring up at him with a wide-eyed, almost fearful, and very vulnerable look that made him feel very protective.  He wanted to just stay in that position for as long as he could, but slowly the fear melted away from her eyes and they hardened.

"Ronald Weasley, PUT ME DOWN."

He shrugged.  The moment had passed.  He gently dropped her, legs first, with an, "Okay."  She released his neck, and he wanted to catch her fingers and kiss them as they slid around his neck, sending shivers up and down his spine.  Was she doing it on purpose?

"All right, come on, we're going back now."  She marched off, not looking at him, and he followed dutifully, wondering if he would ever work up the nerve to ask her to the ball.

***

The next day Hermione had determined that he was worthy of her attention and resumed speaking to him, although Ron knew it wouldn't last.  He just couldn't seem to say anything without upsetting her, if he could say anything at all.  Most of the time he stuttered and stumbled and felt like a general fool.  Harry didn't help; he seemed to have picked up on Ron's nervousness and deliberately left them alone, outside on the grounds, in December, with snow on the ground, sitting on a bench.

At least, Ron knew that he thought like that, but Harry's scar had hurt and he had had to go see Dumbledore.  That didn't change matters though; he was still sitting next to Hermione on a bench, alone, and he silently vowed to kill Harry as soon as he got the chance.

Hermione, at least, seemed to be having the same problem talking, which amazed Ron.  Usually you had to force the girl to shut up.  However, the silence had stretched too long for it to be comfortable any more, so he hazarded, "What'd you think it is?"

Jumping, Hermione stopped staring at the ground and glanced at him.  "What do I think what is?"

"What's causing Harry's scar to hurt," he explained.

She shrugged and resumed her gazing at the ground.  "Maybe someone else got tortured.  It didn't seem to hurt as much as it did when that man was killed…"

Ron shrugged in reply and watched her, watched the way her hair, brought back by barrettes, settled softly around her shoulders, how her neck seemed so revealed, so lovely in its pale softness, how her shoulders were hunched up as she shivered.  He wanted to see her face, though, to complete the picture-perfect-ness she always displayed.

"Do you always stare at the ground?" he demanded, trying to soften his tone.

She shrugged, something she often did.  "What else is there to look at?"

"Me," he said, before realizing what he said and turning bright red.  How could he have been so stupid to slip like that?

"Why would I want to look at you?" she asked, still staring at the ground.

"I don't know," he said, exasperated.  "Because it's polite."

Now she did look up at him, her brown eyes poring innocently into his own blue-grey ones, making him tongue-tied at her beauty.  "Why is it polite?"

Feeling most graceless, he stumbled around the words, "It's polite to look at the person you're talking to."

"What if I consider the person I'm talking to an alien from outer space?" she said, a sparkle lighting up her eyes and a smile tugging at her lips.

He shrugged, returning her expression with a lopsided grin.  "You're still talking to me."

It worked.  Her smile blossomed, brightening up her whole face, making her look like a perfect angel.  Ron couldn't help himself; he stared at her adoringly.  She didn't quite seem to notice, although a question pulled down at her forehead, making her frown very slightly.  Without thinking, he reached out with a gloved hand and pushed at her eyebrows until her eyes were wide, although they had done that with surprise.

"What?" she asked, staring at him with that inquisitive wide-eyed look.

"Nothing," he mumbled stupidly, "nothing."

"Is something wrong?"

"No, no," he said, shaking his head vehemently, but adding unthinkingly, "Your eyes weren't as wide and I couldn't see them."

"So?" she asked, shaking her head slightly and bringing her head down so she could peer up into his face.  "What do my eyes have to do with anything?"

"Nothing," he said firmly, "just forget it."

"Suit yourself," she said, and resumed her stare at the ground.  Ron took a deep breath and looked in the opposite direction of her position.  Why, why, why, why, why, WHY couldn't he act normally?  God, but she was beautiful, and making him insane.  Without thinking, he got up and started back to the castle.  He had to get away, had to run, had to go somewhere and think rationally.  He could barely think rationally anymore.  Certainly, his non-sated urge to kiss her was irrational, and it was also screaming at him at the top of its lungs.  No, he told it firmly.  I don't want to scare her.

"Ron?" came a feminine voice from behind him.  He didn't stop, and the sound of crunching snow grew louder as Hermione ran to catch up with him.  He knew he could start to run, and leave her behind, but somehow his legs refused his brain and instead slowed down, until she had joined him.  Without speaking, he altered course, heading for Hagrid's cabin.  It offered privacy, at least, and you couldn't see behind it from anywhere but the top of the castle, and so if he did give in to insanity and did something, at least only Hermione would know.  Of course, it would probably scar her forever, and she wouldn't speak to him again, but…but…he couldn't come up with an argument, and instead increased his pace.  Hermione had dropped behind him, slightly, but she still matched his pace.  Hermione…closing his eyes, he could see the questions etched on her face…

"Ron, where are you going?  Ron?"  He let her voice pour onto his ears, and opened his eyes.  He was right where he wanted to be, behind Hagrid's cabin, close to the Forbidden Forest, and so he turned around to face her.  She stood about a foot away, concern filling her face, but upon his turning she came closer, so that she had to look up even farther to meet his eyes.

"Here, I was coming here," he said, his voice peculiarly calm.  Perhaps knowing that he had made up his mind, that he was going to tell her what he felt, was making his nerves behave appropriately.

"Why?" she asked.  "Is something wrong?  Are you worried about Harry?"

He shrugged.  "No, it's not about Harry," he assured her.  "It's – look, Hermione – "

Words failed him as he stared at her, in all her beautiful perfection, and so he simply grabbed her by the shoulders, pulled her closer, let go of her shoulders, gently cupped her face in his hands, and kissed her.  There were no words to describe it.  He felt inexplicably free, and she felt inexplicably fragile, so delicate beneath his fingers that he slowly lightened the pressure, not wanting to hurt or break her.  He felt her everywhere she touched him, his hands, his chest, where she was pressed against him, and his neck, where her arms had somehow wormed their way.  Then suddenly, a pressure started to push back at him as she returned the gentle kiss, hesitantly, but wonderfully.

Elated, Ron slowly pulled back and looked down at her.  Her eyes were wide and terrified and overly bright, and happy.  He let out his tightly held breath in a sigh.  Gingerly, he wrapped his arms around her waist, and she responded by collapsing against him, tightening her grip on his neck.  They stood there for several moments, listening to the forest, and each other's breathing.  Ron rested his head on top of hers, feeling the softness of her hair.

Hesitant to break the silence, he whispered, "Do I need to explain further?"

"No," she breathed back, her voice muffled.  "Oh, Ron, I – I don't quite know what to say."

"You could say yes," he suggested.

"To what?" her suspicious voice answered.

"To going to the Yule Ball with me," he replied.

"Oh, yes.  Yes, Ron, yes."

"Oh, you said 'yes' three times.  Hmmm, what can I ask you to do…?"  He let a suggestive hint creep into his voice and was rewarded by her scandalized shriek as she lifted her head and looked up at him.

"Ronald Weasley!"

He grinned down at her.  "Relax.  All I want is this," he brushed her lips with hers, "and this."  He pressed down against her, kissing her deeply and fully, and she returned it.

A sudden cackle broke them apart.  Ron looked over Hermione's head to see Harry and Ginny watching them with grins on their faces and turned bright red.

"Sorry," Harry said, doing his best to keep from sniggering as Ron glared.  "But we went looking for you and so we came down here and…"

"Who's down here?" Hermione asked.  "All I can see is your shirt, Ron."

"Harry and Ginny."  Ron told her, stroking her hair.

"Yes, well, it's ABOUT TIME," Ginny informed them.  "Honestly, you two know nothing about each other."

"What do you mean?" Ron demanded, glaring at her.

Hermione and Ginny giggled.  Ron glanced down at her, feeling most betrayed.  "Ron, you prat," said Hermione, "I've been mad about you since second year."

"Oh," he said.  "Well, you could have told me."

"Right," she said sarcastically.  "I'm sorry, but I'm not audacious enough to drag you down here.  Of course," she added, mischief dancing in her eyes, "now that you've started it, you might find yourself down here more times than you can count."

"Oh, I think I can get used to that," he said, smiling down at her and kissing her nose.  She responded by standing on her tiptoes and kissing him fully and deeply.  Again.

Before surrendering to her, Ron heard Harry say in a stage whisper, "Are they always going to do that?"

Ron pulled back to say, "Yep!  You ought to try it.  But not with Hermione."

Harry laughed, but Ron didn't hear him, because Hermione had pulled him back.  Yes, he definitely could get used to this.

A/N II: Ended 10:59…let's see, that took me…one hour and twenty minutes.  I wasted one hour and twenty minutes on a fluffy fic.  WHEE!